One. Defending with Energy
In the first half the Gopher defense closed out with poor effort and poor technique allowing too many open Maverick threes. Minnesota wasn’t able to move their feet with guard Erick Neal who controlled the pace of play. Lastly, their activity on defense was low as they weren’t making the extra steps to get into lanes and fight into possession.
All of that changed in the second half starting with Nate Mason. After Neal passed the ball early in the offense Mason moved with Neal, denied him most chances to come back to the ball, and limited his ability to affect play. Neal shot 4-14 for the game and Mason severely outplayed him in half two. Also in half two Amir Coffey was a terror in the passing lanes, Reggie Lynch stopped all penetration with his defense in the paint, Eric Curry and Jordan Murphy dominated the glass, and overall the team simply played with much more defensive energy in half two.
Two. The Balance
Five guys scored in double figures last Friday, there were six Gophers in double figures this evening. Reggie Lynch had 14, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer each had 13, Eric Curry 12, Jordan Murphy 11, and Amir Coffey 10. Runs came from McBrayer at the start of the game, Lynch early in half two followed by Coffey, Murphy late, and Mason spread his points across the game. Nate had a tough shooting start but had 13 points, seven boards, seven assists, only two turnovers, and played great defense.
Three. Forcing the Action
Once again the Gophers forced their way to the paint scoring around the rim or getting to the foul line to finish possessions. The Gophers made 30 of 40 foul shots while UTA only attempted 22. Minnesota scored 32 points in the paint while the Mavs had 20. The Gophers had six guys in double figures while UT-Arlington had two. There were a few early shot clock attempts in the first half but in the second half the Gopher ball movement and shot selection was excellent. The best example was Nate Mason calling for the ball and entering to both Lynch and Murphy at different times to get each of them going. The Gophers limited turnovers to eight and did a great job of spreading the ball around to get the shots in front of the rim. Minnesota also dominated the glass with a 47-32 rebounding edge.
Four. Adapted their Game
In recent years the Gophers have rarely faced a quality zone press like they did in the first half. Minnesota didn’t let the zone result in turnovers as much as the zone rattled their halfcourt decision making. Ball movement was rare in the first 20 minutes. After a talking with Coach Richard Pitino at the half the Gophers came out in the second half and did a much better job of swinging the ball against the Maverick zone and getting the ball to both the low post and the elbow areas. Another big part in slowing down the UTA zone was Minnesota’s defense. With the Gophers forcing 15 turnovers and collecting most defensive boards, the Mavs were rarely able to score and then set up the zone pressure that gave the Gophers some troubles.
Five. Give Him Time.
People are starting to worry about Jordan Murphy’s early year production. I mentioned during the game that I was starting to worry. There were some early defensive mistakes, a couple bad shots, and you could tell that the Mavericks had his spin move scouted well as they played it perfectly. Murphy has not been finishing the way he was most of last year. However, Murphy is trying to battle his way out of some early season struggles. Although he missed seven of nine shots Jordan continued to fight his way to the foul line where he made seven of eight free throws allowing him to total 11 points and 12 boards. Murphy had a double-double on what many perceived to be a bad day. Understand that the teams he’s facing fear him because of last year so they are game planning for him in all areas (low post touches, backside boards, and face-up attacks have all been well defended). With the Gophers having more options teams won’t be able to simply key on Jordan and he will soon be back to the 60 percent shooting days we are used to.