MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Isaiah Roby sat upright in the lane. The noise started at the top of The Barn and cascaded down upon him as he rested his head in his hands and stared at the referee.
“That’s Isaiah Roby’s fifth foul!” Minnesota’s PA announcer screamed.
Tim Miles stood on the raised court at The Barn with his hands raised. Isaac Copeland stood with his hands on his hips. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino urged the crowd to get louder.
The ball was right there, on Roby’s fingertips, as was the game. Amir Coffey’s rushed 3-point shot missed, and Roby had the game-saving rebound in front of him, the one that would give Nebraska a chance to salvage giving up a 13-point second-half lead.
Instead, the ball bounced off Roby’s hands, and he dove, hitting Jordan Murphy and giving Minnesota a way out.
Murphy hit two free throws. It was over. Minnesota won 85-78, The Barn burning the Huskers for their first Big Ten loss of the year.
“We just turned over the ball, we went away from what we were doing good in,” Nebraska senior guard Glynn Watson said.
In a game in which Nebraska (7-2, 1-1) seemed to be in complete control — up double digits most of the second half and 13 early in the half — the Huskers failed to close the deal in the Twin Cities. NU shot 38 percent in the second half and gave up 32 points to Coffey, who was 8 of 16 from the floor and dominated Nebraska in the final 15 minutes of the game.
“I thought he was great,” Miles said of Coffey. “He got where he wanted to.”
Nebraska finished the first half on a 12-2 run and took a 44-39 lead into halftime. The Huskers shot out of the gate after halftime with an 11-2 run in the first three minutes to take a 13-point lead with 17:14 left.
But over the next 17 minutes, Nebraska collapsed on both ends of the floor. Minnesota outscored NU 43-23. It took 11 minutes for Minnesota to crack 20 points in the first half. They scored 20 in the final 4:40, with only one defensive stop from the Huskers in crunch time.
Meanwhile, Nebraska looked lost on the offensive end, taking quick shots and turning the ball over six times in the second half.
“As it got more physical, we weren’t as good at getting to the foul line, scoring inside,” Miles said. “We just kept sending them to the foul line.”
Minnesota made 24 of its 32 free throws. Coffey alone shot 16. He got help from Murphy, who scored 18 points and snagged 13 rebounds.
Coffey bothered James Palmer on the other end. He scored 11 points on 3 of 14 shooting. Copeland led Nebraska with 17 points, making 7 of his 15 shots. Roby was noticeably more aggressive on the offensive end, scoring a season-high 15 points on 5 of 13 shooting.
“About time,” Copeland said of Roby’s aggressiveness.
The turning point for Nebraska came with about four minutes left. Nebraska was in the middle of a scoring drought of more than two minutes, its third drought of that kind of the night. Nebraska had missed seven of its last eight shots, and Palmer felt the pressure of the moment.
He drove toward the baseline and was called for a charge. The Barn erupted.
On the next possession, Nebraska momentarily lost Coffey, who pulled up and hit a 3-pointer, giving Minnesota its largest lead of the night on the night, 77-73.
Nebraska had chances in the final 90 seconds, but Palmer mishandled a loose ball and Roby couldn’t corral the defensive rebound down three.
“We did not play good basketball down the stretch,” Miles said postgame. “It’s just frustrating.”