One. Gophers Survive the Upset Scare.
Indiana lost to Fort Wayne. Ohio State lost to 2-win Florida Atlantic. Iowa lost to Nebraska-Omaha. There have been some others. So far Minnesota has avoided the low major upset that has flustered some other programs. Maybe they got all of those losses out of their system a year ago? Whatever the case Minnesota came out with little defensive energy and still managed to beat a veteran team with some late game defensive stops as well as some key baskets from Nate Mason and Akeem Springs. Minnesota still has four non-conference games to go that includes quality Northern Illinois and Arkansas State opponents, but for now they will just enjoy win eight. A win that matched all of last year’s victories.
Two. Holding Down Damon Lynn
It wasn’t that long ago that Damon Lynn hit eight treys, scored 33 points, and scared the Purdue fans into thinking they were going to suffer the home upset. Lynn is the 9th leading scorer in college basketball and no player in college right now has scored more career points than he has.
The Gopher defense overall played with little energy especially in the frontcourt, but Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, and Akeem Springs denied Lynn off the ball and they both all over some screens to limit Lynn’s good touches. Damon made only 5 of 24 attempts including 2 of 15 three-pointers and looked to be uncomfortable in his attempts all night long. Credit Mason’s usually excellent denial off the ball for a lot of the bad touches late in the shot clock. Lynn often wasn’t catching the ball in space, he was usually catching with a Gopher guard in heavy chase leading to some off balance and rushed attempts.
Three. Springs was Mr. Reliable
One guy played with constant energy and that was Akeem Springs. Akeem made half of his dozen field goal attempts including four treys for a game high 19 points plus he grabbed seven rebounds but his effort was far and away the most important thing he did. Springs was the one guy that consistently was deep in a stance angling players into bad spots and often busting through screens. The effort of the senior was the most consistent part of the Gopher win and helped get them to the final minutes when Minnesota’s energy peaked and others helped complete the game.
For too much of this game Minnesota wasn’t making the necessary box-out hits, they didn’t get deep in a stance so they could be on balance when defending on the ball, and the effort to battle through or around screens just wasn’t there enough for the full five on the floor. Sure the Gophers stopped Damn Lynn but guys like Anthony Tarke, Abdul Lewis, and Rob Ukawuba were able to make plays outworking Minnesota. For Jordan Murphy it was another five fouls in 15 minutes (two points for the game) coupled with several missed box-out hits, not enough moving of the feet on defense, and some frustrated body language. Reggie Lynch had a tough first half missing some defensive assignments and box-outs (Reggie finished well leading to his 9 points, 7 boards, and 5 blocks), Eric Curry was yanked quickly for his failures on the defensive end, and mistakes from Ahmad Gilbert and Bakary Konate led to few minutes (Bakary played hard, he just keeps picking up bad fouls).
Five. Nate Mason was Clutch
There was a time late in the first half where Mason had five points on three shots total. Part of that was his effort on Lynn took away some of his energy but Nate needed to be an offensive factor. He knocked out a late half three, scored twice early in the second half, and then with the game on the line he made foul shots and sealed the victory with a pull-up jumper on a Pitino called play. After Pitino got Nate’s attention with a call, Mason ran the shot clock down to 5 (the game clock was about under a minute) and then used a Lynch screen to get clear of the defense for a pull-up. And just moments before Mason rewarded Lynch’s blocked shot with an assist for a dunk. Mason scored 18 points and had a good defensive night as well.
Amir Coffey made 9 of 11 foul shots and many of those were in the second half so he had some clutch plays on his way to 13 points. McBrayer was the fourth Gopher in double figures with 11. Amir led the team with 8 boards and 3 assists.