MINNEAPOLIS — A team built on defense that seemed to finally have found enough playmakers on offense failed in both aspects when it mattered most Wednesday night.
Minnesota outscored Nebraska 25-9 over the final 7 minutes, 15 seconds of the game to rally for an 85-78 win at Williams Arena.
The confident Nebraska team that started both halves against Minnesota disappeared down the stretch as the Gophers rallied from a 13-point deficit with 17 minutes to go, using a 9-0 run late in the second half to grab the lead.
"There's going to be 16 more games like that in this league. So how do you learn to finish somebody off? What happens?" Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "I thought what Glynn Watson said was good, which was, 'We can't let this game beat us twice.'"
It looked for a long while like Nebraska wouldn't be beaten, period.
The Huskers (7-2, 1-1 Big Ten) led by nine with 7:54 to play after a Brady Heiman free throw, but trouble was already brewing. The Huskers at that point hadn’t made a shot in more than two minutes.
By the time Watson’s layup dropped with 2:10 left, NU had made just one shot in an 8:10 stretch as the Gophers rallied.
A pair of Jordan Murphy free throws with 3:01 left gave Minnesota its first lead since three minutes remained in the first half, James Palmer was called for an offensive foul on Nebraska’s ensuing possession, and Amir Coffey hit a three-pointer seconds later to put the Gophers up 77-73.
Minnesota shot 52 percent from the floor, ending a streak of 34 straight games in which Nebraska held its opponent to less than 50 percent from the field.
"We went away from what we were doing good, but we've got to move on," Watson said. "We've just got to watch film (to see what happened). I can't remember all the details, but we've just got to learn from it."
Coffey led Minnesota (7-2, 1-1) with 32 points, going 8-of-16 from the field and 14-of-17 at the free-throw line. Murphy added 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Isaac Copeland led Nebraska with 17 points and seven boards. Isaiah Roby added 15 points and four rebounds.
Watson scored 14 points to go with four assists, while Palmer was held to 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting. Coffey, in addition to his big night offensively, had the defensive assignment on Palmer. Palmer missed all seven shots he attempted after halftime.
"We just did not play good basketball down the stretch," said Miles. "And as it got more physical, we weren't as good getting to the foul line or scoring inside."
Leading by five at the break, the Huskers came out of the locker room with a 9-3 run to open up their biggest lead.
The end of the game was similar to the first half.
Teetering after an 11-0 Minnesota run just past the midway point of the half, Nebraska closed with a 12-2 run that included scoring eight unanswered points in the final 2:30.
The run came after Minnesota’s Amir Coffey went to the bench with his third foul. Coffey scored 15 first-half points, including 11 in a row and 13 of Minnesota’s 15 in one stretch.
But Coffey’s second and third fouls came 15 seconds apart, and Nebraska regained a bit of control after that.
A career half from Heiman also helped keep the Huskers afloat after NU shot out of the gate.
The freshman from Springfield had eight points and three rebounds in eight minutes off the bench as Nebraska’s frontcourt battled foul trouble and did little to stop Minnesota in the paint.
Heiman and Thomas Allen, who came in averaging 6.8 points per game but finished the half with seven, gave the Huskers 15 points they likely weren’t counting on before the game.
Nebraska started out hitting five of its first six shots and bolting to a 12-4 lead. The Huskers led by as many as nine early, hitting three of their first five three-pointers, and getting a highlight dunk from an energetic Roby.