"Happy with the win,” Richard Pitino said in the post game news conference. “You know, 6 and 0 start, obviously pleased with, but we needed a wake up call there. Just from an offensive standpoint, we were not real connected. We were frustrated and I think that’s attributed to missing shots."
The Gophers had just ten turnovers but eight of those turnovers came from the three frontcourt Gophers Jordan Murphy, Eric Curry, and Bakary Konate. Minnesota made just 60 percent of their free throws (12 of 22) and the bigs hurt them there as well (those three combined to shoot 4 of 11 at the stripe).
As a team the Gophers shot 38 percent from the field and made only 3 of 16 three-point attempts. Akeem Springs missed all five of his attempts, Nate Mason was under 50 percent for the game again (3 of 8), and the starting bigs (Murphy and Curry) made 7 of 20 shots.
"Fortunately we played defense, we guarded the three point line, you know the free throw line we left a lot of points on the board there,” Pitino said. “We made some big plays when we needed to. And if you defend and rebound, and you guard the three, you’re going to be in every game. And we did that tonight."
Southern Illinois had shot the ball well all season from the arc but they ran into a much improved Gopher defense on Friday. Take away the 15 points and 7 of 14 shooting from junior Thik Bol and the Salukis made only 12 of 47 shots.
Double figure scorers Sean O’Brien (2 of 9), Leo Vincent (1 of 9), Mike Rodriguez (2 of 6), and Armon Fletcher (a 54 percent three-point shooter who made 1 of 4) were all limited by Pitino’s mix of a few zones and well coached defensive technique playing ball screens. Minnesota won the rebound battle 44-37 and they forced SIU into 2 of 17 shooting at the arc.
The Gopher length forced SIU shooters to take another step behind the arc to release, forced them to shoot late in the shot clock because they couldn’t find space with their ball screens, forced players to move off the ball higher up the arc than usual, and at times couldn’t move the ball where they wanted.
SIU coach Barry Hinson had a tough night coaching with Richard Pitino out-matching him out of every timeout. Hinson just felt his team didn’t shoot well and the Gopher size edge wasn’t much of an advantage.
“I would say in most occasions (the Gopher length) would be a factor, but I do not think it was a factor tonight,” Hinson said after the game.
“I don't remember exception of one three being heavily contested and Armon (Fletcher) made it in front of the bench. I don't remember any majorly contested shots tonight. I think we just missed shots.”
We at GI think coach needs to watch the film again. What was most impressive about the Gopher line-up was that they were missing their starting center Reggie Lynch. Freshman Eric Curry started in Reggie’s place.
"(Eric) did some good things,” said Pitino. “He got a couple turnovers he got frustrated with. You know, we kind of threw him into the fire. He did play 35 minutes as a freshman."
Curry had a game high 11 rebounds and scored eight points but also had five turnovers and shot 3 of 10. Bakary Konate gave the Gophers a lot of energy off the bench grabbing five boards, blocking two shots, and scoring twice in 14 minutes.
"I thought Bakary played really good minutes when he got in there,” Pitino said. “Did a lot of good things, you know, so, he came in and brought value which is extremely important.
“We’re not as complete without Reggie now. So it doesn’t feel as complete. So we need to be healthy to be complete. But I thought Bakary really gave us good minutes."
Dupree McBrayer sparked Minnesota offensively with his 11 points and six assists in 33 minutes. Dupree had a clutch score late in the game and didn’t turn the ball over. The sophomore gave the Gophers a spark later, and in the remaining seven non-conference games Dupree wants his team to start quicker.
"I think we need to prep a little bit better.,” Dupree said. “We came out childish, thinking it was going to be an easy team. We have to think like every game is going to be a Big Ten game."
Minnesota freshman Amir Coffey once again led the team in scoring putting up 13 points on six of nine shooting.
What was even more impressive was his clutch baskets: hitting the feet set corner trey at the first half buzzer, getting open with 90 seconds left and using a shot fake to displace a defender and go baseline for the reverse lay-up that was the nail in the coffin.
"He's a great player,” McBrayer said of Coffey. “He's going to make plays . He's getting more confident with every game and that's a plus. He's going to keep coming out like that.”
The Gophers are now 6-0 and are headed into the biggest non-conference game of the season, a road test against Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
How talented are the Noles? Five star true freshman Jonathan Isaac, a 6-foot-10 210 pound combo forward, is a projected top ten lottery pick next June. Six-foot-7 sophomore shooting guard Dwayne Bacon is a projected late round first round pick.
The Noles were a top 25 team and have the potential to be a Sweet 16 level team in March. Florida State is 5-1 on the season after losing to Temple on Thursday but beating Illinois last night in Brooklyn.