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The Gophers are out of upsets and end the season with a 70-54 loss to Maryland in the Big Ten tournament


CHICAGO — Upsets were the theme for the first two days of the Big Ten tournament at the United Center.

The first five games of the tournament were won by the lower seeds for the first time ever, but the 14th-seeded Gophers were unable to extend that streak against sixth-seeded Maryland in a a 70-54 loss on Thursday night to end their season.

The Gophers (9-22) were the tournament’s biggest underdogs. They beat No. 11-seeded Nebraska with a 78-75 win on Wednesday, but on Thursday fell to 0-10 against Maryland since 2017.

There would be no playoffs for second-year Gophers coach Ben Johnson in Chicago, but he finished a tough season knowing he has a core to build next year.

“We definitely have pieces that we’re all excited about,” Johnson said. “The offseason, we’re going to attack it and definitely use this year as motivation. It’s good to finally have some guys back.”

Pharrel Payne of the Gophers had a team-high 17 points and didn’t miss a shot — making all six of his shots from the field and five free throws — and grabbed nine rebounds. Fellow freshman Braeden Carrington also finished with 12 points, but the Gophers couldn’t overcome 15 turnovers and struggles from their upperclasses.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we feel like we’ve stuck with it,” Carrington said. “It’s just hard to come out that way, but having this core group of freshmen for the next two years is really exciting.”

The Terrapins (21-11), who qualified to face Indiana on Friday in the quarterfinals, were led by Donta Scott, who had 16 of his 20 points in the first half. They put the pincers on Minnesota’s top three scorers, Dawson Garcia, Jamison Battle and Ta’Lon Cooper, who combined for just 13 points on 4-for-20 shooting.

A 2-17 Gophers team in the Big Ten had played better, with Johnson making the most of a young and injury-plagued group to end a 12-game losing streak last week with a 75-74 win over Rutgers at home. .

Garcia’s late-season growth into a go-to guy heading into Thursday was a positive sign for next year, especially since he’s the only veteran starter expected to return. Cooper and Battle are probably moving on. They were able to extend their time with the Gophers for one night.

Cooper, who set a team Big Ten Tournament record with 12 assists on Wednesday, hit a major milestone with his 600th career assist in the first half on Thursday. But Maryland made life difficult for him with constant traps and an aggressive all-court press.

The Gophers managed to beat Nebraska despite 15 turnovers in the first round, but they shot 52% from the field, hit 10 threes and had 25 assists. The offense didn’t go so well Thursday against a solid Maryland defense.

Payne, Joshua Ola-Joseph and Carrington rode an 8-0 freshman-led run in the first half to take a 10-8 lead, but it was the rare rally for the Gophers. Youth would not be enough to maintain the momentum.

In the second half, the Gophers also had foul trouble. Ola-Joseph and Henley both committed four fouls with more than 16 minutes remaining. Henley finally committed a foul. Garcia was whistled for his fourth foul around the 14th minute. Payne and Carrington therefore tried to keep their team in the game without many other scoring options available.

Maryland extended their lead to 41-26 early in the second half, but the Gophers went on a capped 11-4 run to make it 45-37. Carrington hit three straight goals, but the Terps were determined to earn the tournament’s first victory for a top seed.

Payne made it the 10th time this year the Gophers were trailing a freshman in scoring. By comparison, the freshmen haven’t led the team once with a senior-laden squad in 2021-22, so there might be hope for a bigger leap with this returning group. next season.

“I feel like we have a lot to build on,” Payne said. “The four freshmen and how we’re going into next year with a lot of experience. From there things will be better.”

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