“It was a good win for us,” Minnesota Head Coach Richard Pitino said after the victory. “We took a major step forward in the rebounding department, to be plus 20 on a good rebounding team."
The Gophers have had some troubles securing box-out hits and then collecting the ball but against a Northern Illinois team that was a plus 5.5 per game on the season in rebounding, Minnesota dominated 48-28.
“We did a good job at getting to and converting on the foul line (25 for 30 for the game), and we made stops at half court. If their was one weakness it was turnovers (Gophers had 14).
“Other than that, I think these guys are sharing the ball extremely well and are extremely unselfish. They enjoy playing together and they seem like they're having a lot of fun. We handled business and now we move on."
This is one of the better passing teams we’ve seen in maroon and gold in a long time. Nate Mason had another six assists with zero turnovers, Amir Coffey had four assists and several key moments of ball movement that balanced the offense, and the posts move the ball to one another excellently.
"I think our whole team is really willing passers,” Pitino stated. “If we pass the ball better we would have less turnovers, but I think they are very unselfish.
“They look like they have fun together. They celebrate each other's successes, and they are constantly looking to share the ball; they have good chemistry.
“Winning helps. It gets everybody feeling good. I think we have balance on this team, and when we have lineups in the game I think all five guys can score. I don't think there is ever a point where there is a non-scorer on the team. They know each others strengths and they also enjoy each others company off the court."
Yet again Minnesota had five players score in double figures. Mason had 11 points led by 7 of 8 foul shooting, Akeem Springs hit a couple treys off the bench and scored ten (had four steals too), and Dupree McBrayer scored ten points although he had four turnovers and some defensive issues early.
Inside Jordan Murphy put together a double-double of a dozen points and ten boards. Next to him was the game MVP Reggie Lynch who put up 18 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, made 8 of 10 foul shots, and locked down NIU leading scorer Marin Maric who fouled out scoring just nine points in 27 minutes.
"I thought that Lynch, he came out and it seemed like he wouldn't miss a shot in the first half,” Northern Illinois Coach Mark Montgomery said. “We tried to slow him down in the second half, but it just wasn't enough."
"I think that he has a long way to go and he has to be coached after being out for awhile,” said Pitino of his junior big. “(Reggie: just needs as many reps as he can, but I thought he was terrific tonight; eighteen points, eleven rebounds.
“He rebounded the ball extremely well today, and I think he is one of the better centers in the league. He played hard and showed really good leadership. He can continue to get better, but overall is a game changer for us."
Reggie missed a lot of time from February through this fall because of multiple injuries and because of an accusation that had no proof. Lynch is still getting back into the groove and several ways, but he’s doing pretty good leading the Big Ten in shot blocking, among other things.
What is helping Reggie is playing against physical centers, which he enjoys more than playing against face-up bigs away from the basket.
"I'm definitely feeling more comfortable going against more physical guys,” Lynch said. “Obviously, coming from a mid-major conference, there's not too many teams that have a ton of physicality.
“Just right off the bat, playing teams like Arkansas, St. Johns, this team, tonight, they're all really physical teams. Going against tougher players is really how I'm evolving.
“It just felt great to have a good offensive performance and to get a lot of rebounds, and get the win. Everyone really played great. I played pretty well, but everyone all around did very well, and we executed in the second half, so it was a good feeling."
Overall this team just looks like they enjoy playing with each other much more than past teams did. They are excited for one another from the bench area and overall this looks like a closer team.
"I think it's awesome,” Murphy said of his team camaraderie. “I'm enjoying it a lot. Obviously, going from last year and a season like that, it's a really big turnaround. Obviously you can see with our team and our guys, everything is just way different. It really makes me happy.
"Last year, no one really played around; it's cool that guys have fun with each other. We just joke around and it brings a lot of humor to the team, so it's really enjoyable."
The Gophers have two more non-conference games left: they play LIU-Brooklyn this Wednesday on BTN Plus and their final game before Big Ten play starts is against Arkansas State on December 23rd.
The Brooklyn Blackbirds are having a nice year at 7-3. Last night they defeated St. John’s 74-73. Before that they lost by double figures to Incarnate Word and North Carolina Central but they had won six of their first seven games.
Florida International transfer Jerome Frink (6-foot-7, 230 pounds) leads LIU-Brooklyn with 17.1 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. Frink played for Richard Pitino at FIU during the 2012-13 season when he was a freshman. Frink played two years at FIU total, transferred to LIU Brooklyn, and was an all conference player last year.