The Minnesota Golden Gophers were able to cast aside poor outside shooting and bad transition defense thanks to a stellar first half from Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry’s best game as a Gopher to defeat a pesky Rutgers Scarlet Knight squad 72-63 in an early Saturday conference tip-off.
The Gophers started the game sans the tired legs most assumed they would have on short rest after a double overtime game. They jumped out to a 9-2 lead on the back of a resurgent Jordan Murphy and opportunistic team defense. Though Minnesota would quickly give this lead back, seeing the Scarlet Knights capitalize on terrible transition defense from Gopher guards, they quickly began to convert in the half court on offense by feeding Murphy and Eric Curry.
The two forwards combined for 22 points on 10-13 shooting 11 rebounds in the first half, with Murphy shining via quality post moves, using his left hand, rebounding with tenacity (6 offensive rebounds in the first half!), and having a complete disregard for human life on a filthy dunk over Rutgers center CJ Gettys. Curry was also solid on the offensive boards and finishing around the rim. Consider the Jordan Murphy comeback tour as sold out for the rest of its duration.
On the not so sunny side of things in the first half, Reggie Lynch committed two relatively silly fouls and had to sit for over half the proceedings. Dupree McBrayer, usually quite adept at avoiding fouls, also garnered two quick fouls, shorting the Minnesota bench significantly. Despite this foul trouble, and going an atrocious 1-12 from three-point range, Minnesota was able to counter-act these generally poisonous behaviors through two antidotes: quality half-court defense and dominating the boards both offensively and defensively.
Not to be missed is that despite going 1-7 from the field in the first half, Nate Mason played suffocating defense on Rutgers star sophomore Corey Sanders, disrupting his usually driving lanes and neutralizing his presence in the half court. So despite the poor outside shooting and awful transition defense, the Gophers were able to maintain a comfortable lead heading into halftime, 43-34.
Through much of the second half, thanks to Mason’s improved play after the break, the Gophers were able to keep the Scarlet Knights at arm’s length, maintaining a 8-12 point advantage for a majority of the second half. While Rutgers still enjoyed a fair amount of success on run-outs and easy transition buckets, Minnesota countered with quality looks off of pick-and-roll, and continuing good post play from Murphy and Curry.
A peculiar foul away from the shot scenario allowed Rutgers to cut a double-digit deficit to five points in the blink of an eye at the 4 minutes-to-go mark of the second half. Mike Williams threw in a fade away three with a hand in his face and the Piscataway crowd was sensing a change in the fortunes of the game as the score stood in favor of Minnesota, 66-61.
After a Mason layup, Jordan Murphy accumulated two fouls in a nine second span, ending his spectacular day with 2:28 remaining. Fortunately, his second foul was rather smart because it stopped Eugene Omoruyi from completing a wide open dunk. And, true to form of the atrocious conversion rate from the charity stripe by Rutgers throughout the day and season, Omoruyi went on to miss both free throws, giving the Gophers some much needed breathing room.
Mason created some angst by missing the front end of a one-and-one after a CJ Gettys put back made the score 68-63 but good defense by Lynch on a driving Corey Sanders and better free throws from Mason the second time around gave Minnesota the confidence to close out the game. After Sanders dribbled off his foot on the ensuing possession for Rutgers, Minnesota was able to finish it off from the free throw line, ensuring their third consecutive victory.
- Murphy has successfully set aside a poor stretch of play and assert himself via attacking the offensive boards and slow things down when he receives the ball in the half court. He had some incredible patience in the first half and, in one instances that really stood out, calmly finished with his left hand in traffic to re-emphasize the 180 his mentality has done in the last two games. With Lynch being a no-show due to foul trouble, Jordan shined with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
- Curry was also amazing, finishing 5-5 from the floor and 1-1 from the line for a perfect day shooting and 11 uber-efficient points. He added 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in a game that may go unnoticed by some but was, without a doubt, his best all-around performance thus far in maroon and gold.
- Mason continues to stink in first halves and awaken at halftime and put the offense on his back at times in the second. He started the half with two deep threes and never looked back, going 1-7 in the first half and 4-9 in the second half. He also helped ice the game by going 4-5 from the free throw line.
- Lastly, this is huge to note: Minnesota went 3-17 from three-point land in an away conference game AND STILL WON! I don’t care that the opponent was Rutgers, that is a huge positive sign for the development of this team. Being able to set aside an atrocious outside shooting day, especially from Springs who had his worst game in a long stretch of games, and win via efficient (25-43 from 2-point range), well executed offense is something to build on.
After the disheartening losing streak in the middle of conference play, Minnesota has rebounded well and now sits at 6-6 in conference play currently good for 6th place and an 18-7 overall record. The next step for the Gophers is to beat a talented but injury-plagued Indiana squad that comes to the Barn this coming Wednesday. The winning streak is at three. Let’s see if they can make it four. Remember, last year the Gophers went 8-22. How fun has this season been in comparison?!?!