COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Just under a month ago, Minnesota reached the low point of its season with a loss to Maryland.
Looking at the Golden Gophers now, it’s hard to believe this is the same team. And maybe it isn’t. Not mentally, anyway.
“We’re much more confident. We’re tougher,” coach Richard Pitino said after resurgent Minnesota pulled away from the 24th-ranked Terrapins in an 89-75 victory Wednesday night.
The Gophers’ lackluster defeat against Maryland on Jan. 28 stretched their losing streak to five. Since then, they have won six in a row.
“We just had to break through,” Pitino said. “We did that, and now we’re starting to believe. Internally they’re starting to believe. I don’t need to tell them, they’re doing it for themselves.”
What a difference a month makes.
“We’re mentally tougher and physically tougher,” said Dupree McBrayer, who scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half.
Though Maryland coach Mark Turgeon acknowledged that his team was hardly at its best, he gave most of the credit to the Gophers.
“They weren’t good, they weren’t great, they were phenomenal,” Turgeon said.
The Golden Gophers (21-7, 9-6 Big Ten) outscored Maryland 55-40 in the second half to earn their third straight road win, the school’s longest such run in the conference since 1989-90.
Down 53-50, the Gophers got 12 points from McBrayer in a 20-7 spree that broke open a game that had gone back and forth to that point.
Nate Mason scored 17 points and Akeem Springs added 16 for Minnesota, which committed only six turnovers — two after halftime.
Maryland standout guard Melo Trimble went 4-for-12 from the field and the Terrapins (22-6, 10-5) went 7-for-27 beyond the arc in losing for the fourth time in six games. Backup center Ivan Bender scored a career-high 15 points for Maryland and Trimble and Anthony Cowan each had 11.
Maryland had a three-point lead when freshman Justin Jackson missed a 3-pointer that would have made it 56-50.
McBrayer drilled a 3 on the other end, then added two field goals before Eric Curry scored in the lane to make it 59-53 with 10:47 remaining. Just when it seemed as if the game was getting away from Maryland, Trimble connected from long range to spark a 7-2 surge that got the Terrapins within a point.
That would be as close as Maryland would get. A jumper by McBrayer, four straight points by Jordan Murphy and a 3 by McBrayer made it 70-60 with 6:24 remaining.
“It happened so fast,” Turgeon said. “You’re right there and then you’re down by 10.”
A first half that featured four ties and four lead changes ended with the Terrapins in front 35-34. After Maryland used a 10-0 run to take a 21-17 lead, the Gophers rattled off 10 straight points to move back in front. It was 29-23 before a dunk by L.G. Gill ignited another 10-point spree for the Terps.
Bender went 6 for 8 to score 12 points, surpassing his career high of 10. Trimble had five assists to offset his 1-for-7 shooting.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers’ late surge during the regular season shows they just might be a serious threat in the Big Ten Tournament.
Maryland: The Terrapins have run out of steam since getting off to the best start in school history (20-2). This lopsided loss at home is further proof the team is headed in the wrong direction at the wrong time.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers’ frame of mind is vastly different than after that first Maryland game.
“We had the weight of the world on our shoulders where now we do not,” Pitino said. “That’s it more than anything. We believe in each other.”
Maryland: Turgeon tried to stay upbeat, but it wasn’t easy.
“We’ve just got to figure it out,” he said. “We’ve had a heck of year. We just didn’t have a great night.”
Minnesota: The Gophers host Penn State, looking to even the score after falling to the Nittany Lions 52-50 on Jan. 14.
Maryland: The Terrapins play at home against Iowa, a team they defeated 84-76 on Jan. 19 behind a 20-point performance by Trimble.
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