Minnesota defeated Purdue 91-82 in overtime at Mackey Arena. Minnesota improves to 1-1 in conference play and 13-2 on the season. After a depressing loss in their first game to Michigan State, the Gophers responded with an impressive performance on the road that may matter in March. Nate Mason led all scorers with 31 points.
The Gophers began the game by making eight straight baskets before cooling off. Throughout the first half, Minnesota was able to consistently attack the lane and make both shots close to the basket and mid range jumpers. In general, mid range jumpers are a poor shot, but the Gophers have multiple players who can hit them with consistency.
Chief among those players is Nate Mason, and I’m going to take a bit of time to gush at his performance. His performance was a textbook definition of how to play point guard. He had 31 points on 11 for 18 shooting, 2-4 from behind the arc, and 7-10 from the free throw line. That equates to an effective field goal percentage of 67%, which is fantastic from an efficiency standpoint. The junior also added 11 assists for a double double, along with six rebounds, two steals, and just one turnovers. Just as important as his total numbers was how he achieved them. Mason played within the offense until he was given the green light by Pitino to take over. If he continues these kinds of performances, even without the eye popping scoring, it will be difficult to convince me that he’s not one of the three best guards in the Big Ten.
Purdue played tough in the second half to take the game to overtime. Caleb Swanigan is an excellent basketball player who made life difficult for every single big man the Gophers put on him. The Boilermakers used excellent offensive spacing and ball movement to find multiple open looks throughout the second half. When Purdue is playing at their best, they will compete with any team in the country. All the more reason to savor this win, because it could legitimately matter in March.
Yes, March. Certainly it is premature to expect the Gophers to make the tournament, and there is plenty of season left to do traditional Gophery things. With that said, Minnesota went into a place that is extremely difficult to win and was the better team for much of the game. This was not a fluke win, but a deserved one. Minnesota has legitimate talent across the board, and the young talent continues to improve game by game. The Gophers are fun to watch, and the non conference season does not seem to be a fluke.
Speaking of upperclassmen leadership, Akeem Springs made multiple key plays in the second half. Springs did not have a good shooting game, but late in the second half was responsible for the most important sequence of the game. He blocked a shot, grabbed the loose ball, drove up court, and found an open Amir Coffey for a three pointer in transition. That kind of pure hustle play is what wins games on the road.
Reggie Lynch again proved that he needs to stay on the floor for the Gophers to be successful. Lynch fouled out in overtime, but during regulation had 10 points, five blocks, and six rebounds. Lynch is a difference maker on defense, and the only player on Minnesota who can successfully defend a player like Swanigan for multiple minutes. Bakary Konate has improved this season, but is not a substitute for Lynch. Minnesota needs him to avoid bad fouls going forward.
Eric Curry almost had a double double, and made two three point shots. Curry likes to take the three pointer, and while it does not look great at this point, I can see his potential as a pick and pop player. Mason and Curry pick and pops could be deadly in the future.
Murphy’s fifth foul came as a result of an obvious flop from the Purdue defender. Credit to Pitino for not getting tossed as a result.
Dupree McBrayer’s dunk in the first half was ferocious and wonderful and made me giggle like a five year old.
Minnesota needs to come up with better end of game sets. The Gophers have now had three chances in two games, and each one has been ugly. While execution is always on the players, the concepts are on the coaches. Here’s to hoping they come up with a better strategy.