“The two problems were turnovers (Minnesota had 14) and offensive rebounds (gave up 13), so we've got to clean that up,” Coach Richard Pitino said. “This is a scary time of year in the sense of, you know, you get a lot of home games, obviously the names are not as big as some of the other bigs ones, so you've got to get your guys to understand you can lose to anybody.
“It doesn't matter in college basketball. You see it every single night, and you try to tell your guys over and over again, and sometimes just feeling it is a nice wake up call. So, I'm happy we won.
“Eight and one, I'm very satisfied with, and to do it with not playing great, obviously. We just found a way to get stops when we needed to, we made winning plays. Credit to NJIT, they play hard. I thought they run a good offense. And yeah, we just weren't great, but we found a way to win."
Minnesota was able to get a nice defensive effort from the guards in denial of the ball, chasing the guard around screens, and ball pressure which led to Damon Lynn, the 9th leading scorer in the nation, shooting just 5 of 24 from the floor and scoring only a dozen points.
“I thought we did guard pretty well,” Pitino said. “They shot 32 threes, obviously a lot of difficult ones, but we made them shoot 25 percent.
"It's a different team than last year. It's good that we're finding a way to win close games. I thought we hit big free throws when we needed to and got stops when we needed to.”
The Gophers shot a healthy 23 of 29 from the foul line (79 percent). As far as the defensive end, there are some inconsistencies that need to be ironed out. The good thing is that Reggie Lynch (five blocks) and Bakary Konate (three blocks) have been able to clean up some mistakes.
“I think Reggie does provide something (that they didn’t have before),” said Pitino. “If you mess up a little bit, he's back there blocking shots. We haven't had that as much. I think it's infectious with Bakary. He's blocking some shots as well.
“It's a long month; we've got to grind them out from a skill development standpoint, as well as do a great job with finals. Get those locked in and make sure they do a good job with those, and then just finding a way to win the next game."
Minnesota faced a different style of team last night as NJIT loves to zone defend on one end, and do a lot of five out or four out motion in their halfcourt offense. The Gophers forced NJIT to defend man to man early in the game.
"Minnesota did a good job executing against our zone and we went man to man and I think that our guys did a good job of defending them, then they stepped up and hit some,” said NJIT Coach Brian Kennedy.
“All the credit to Richard and his team, that is a terrific team, they are 8-1 now, and they stepped up and made shots when they had to."
The guys that stepped up down the stretch was Reggie Lynch on defense, Nate Mason scored all of his 18 points seemingly at important times of the game, and senior Akeem Springs was a standout on both ends of the court.
Springs knocked out four treys, made half of his dozen field goal attempts in all, and scored a game high 19 points. Akeem also grabbed seven defensive boards and did a fantastic job bringing his team energy on the defensive end.
After the game Springs deflected a lot of individual questions to focus on the team win.
"We didn’t play well, you know,” Springs said. “I mean definitely it was a personal best for me but I didn’t feel good during the game. I didn’t feel like my team was playing the best of their ability.
"It was good that we had a close game though, I think that’s going to help us to know that we’ve been in a battle. It’s all learning. I mean parts of me is happy we had this game, because it’s going to make us hungry in practice."
The Gophers now have two days to prepare for Georgia Southern who plays Minnesota Friday night at Williams Arena. The Eagles are 4-4 this year with a close loss at North Carolina State, losses to Mercer, Akron, and Florida Gulf Coast, and wins against Radford and Florida A&M among others.
Like NJIT, Georgia Southern also has a top scorer in the country. Ike Smith is his name and he is a 6-foot-4 sophomore slasher that has been relentless in his wing attack. Smith is averaging just under 22 points a game.