Playing back-to-back college basketball games against the same opponent for the first time ever in the regular season, the Gophers weren’t taking Loyola Marymount by surprise Monday night.
Loyola Marymount’s game plan was clearly to do everything possible to slow down Marcus Carr, who was averaging nearly 32 points after two games.
The Lions shut him down for one half, but couldn’t stop Carr from carrying his team late and being the hero — even though they knew what was coming.
The junior guard’s tiebreaking three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left helped the Gophers survive an upset attempt with a 67-64 victory at Williams Arena.
“I had the confidence in myself,” Carr said, “to pull that out and make the play to win.”
Gophers coach Richard Pitino described Carr’s step-back three for the winner “terrific” at the end, because his floor general blundered on the team’s previous possession by committing an offensive foul when the same isolation play was called for the second time.
The third time was the charm.
“To have the confidence to tell me, ‘Hey, run it again,’ ” Pitino said. “We ran it again, and obviously, he made an unbelievable play.”
Carr scored 22 of his 28 points in the first half of Saturday’s 88-73 victory vs. LMU. In Monday’s rematch, he cooled off with only five points on 1-for-7 shooting in the first half. But he still finished with 26 points, including 8-for-9 shooting in the second half for the Gophers (3-0).
Carr moved on quickly from the mistake he made with 33 seconds left, when he lost his footing driving to the basket and was called for a charge.
“I kind of knew I messed it up,” he said. “I wanted to get it right for my guys.”
It was the second game-deciding three for Carr in his Gophers career, including a play in January when he shook a defender at the top of the key and hit a clutch jumper that gave the program its first victory at Ohio State since 2005. “It was definitely the same play and a similar situation,” Carr said.
Carr faced multiple defenders switching on ball screens and was forced to take difficult shots the entire game Monday against Loyola Marymount (1-2). So, the Gophers needed more than Carr’s efforts to win.
Gabe Kalscheur shot only 1-for-11 from the floor, but he hit two free throws to tie the score 61-61 with 3 minutes, 28 seconds to play. And Kalscheur followed that up by drawing an offensive foul on the Lions’ ensuing possession.
Liam Robbins gave the Gophers the lead with 1:46 to play by making one of two free throws, and after a Loyola Marymount turnover, Carr made a basket in the lane for a three-point lead with 1:09 remaining.
Keli Leaupepe, who had 16 points off the LMU bench, was fouled on a putback and converted a three-point play to tie the score 64-64 with 23 seconds left. That was more than enough time for the Gophers to set up Carr’s winner. Isaiah Ihnen’s block on Jalin Anderson’s three-point attempt sealed the victory as time expired.
“When people watch the highlights and see the video they might think I’m the one who won the game,” Carr said. “But to be honest, it was Gabe who won the game. He came in the game and had three huge plays.”
The Gophers remained undefeated despite trailing 61-59 on Eli Scott’s jumper with 3:26 remaining.
The Lions’ physicality shocked the Gophers on Saturday and was even more impactful Monday. The Gophers couldn’t establish an inside presence on offense or make an impact on the glass.
The Gophers were outrebounded 24-14 in the first half, which was largely a result of their starting frontcourt of transfers Robbins and Brandon Johnson struggling with foul trouble.
Johnson had his first start with the Gophers on Monday, but he fouled out with only two points. Robbins fouled out with five points and five rebounds. The new frontcourt is still a work in progress.
Despite finishing with only 11 victories last season, Loyola Marymount, under first-year coach Stan Johnson, has a squad that often overpowered its Big Ten opponent inside in two games at Williams Arena. The Gophers won’t forget they were outrebounded 43-30 Monday, giving up 18 offensive rebounds.
“We haven’t had exhibition games or open runs leading up to this,” Robbins said. “It’s a weird year. But I’m learning.”