Denying the college basketball world a historic matchup next Tuesday, Minnesota beat Maryland 68-63 to claim their first conference win of the season. It was also Minnesota's first win since December 16th. Yes, the Gophers had gone over two months without a win. Rasheed Sulaimon led all scorers with 28 points. The Four Factors are below.
Let's get the important point out of the way. Maryland is not the number 6 team in the country without Diamond Stone. The freshman's idiotic decision to try and bash Vitto Brown's head into the court the previous game was a key factor in Maryland's loss. Without his rim protection, Minnesota was able to get into the lane and consistently attack the basket. Once again, Minnesota had a poor shooting game overall and went 10 possessions in a row without making a basket in the second half. Then again, the Gophers of the first half dominated one of the best defensive teams in the country. They made three point shots, found cutters to the basket, and had a clear gameplan. In what was the most shocking part of the game, Minnesota made 20 of 23 foul shots.
Minnesota brought its best performance of the season yesterday, and did so with a lineup that will almost entirely return next year. Apart from Joey King, who was excellent and I'll return to later, every Minnesota player who played significant minutes is a freshman or a sophomore. Minnesota's best defensive lineup was entirely freshmen and sophomores.
The Gophers almost ruined it for themselves in the final minute with a turnover, but Dupree McBrayer made a great play to steal the ball back to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Since we spent some time talking about in the comments section last week, Dupree McBrayer had another Austin Hollins like performance. The freshman's shot looks more confident every game. He finished with 9 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. None of those steals were more important than the one in the final moments. McBrayer's insertion into the starting lineup has provided Minnesota a boost that it did not have with Carlos Morris.
Nate Mason is approaching chucker status, but he made critical baskets yesterday. He finished with 18 points, and added 6 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. Mason must improve his two point shooting game, in particular not taking contested long jumpers, but he won the point guard battle over Melo Trimble.
Jordan Murphy had another double double because that's what Jordan Murphy does. More importantly, the freshmen was 7 of 8 from the foul line.
Finally, let's give a lot of credit to Joey King. The senior did everything a veteran leader is supposed to do yesterday. He finished with 15 points and 6 rebounds, and made every single one of his free throws. King has obvious defensive weaknesses, but he developed into a real weapon from distance this year. I'll miss defenders inexplicably biting for his pump fake next year.
Minnesota next plays Rutgers on Tuesday.