The 2018-2019 Minnesota Golden Gopher men’s basketball season got off to a fast offensive start as Coach Richard Pitino’s squad coasted to a 104-76 victory at Williams Arena in their opening game against the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. Despite a sluggish start, easily attributable to shaking off rust and freshman getting acclimated to Division I basketball, the Gopher were able to score at all levels led by a balanced attack from all five starters.
While Daniel Oturu struggled in the opening moments of the game, including two early turnovers and a missed bunny, he soon found himself both in the scoring column and on the boards. The freshman from Woodbury finished with 14 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block, a respectable debut from the highly touted big man. Unfortunately an ankle injury forced Oturu to leave the court late in the 2nd half with the game well in hand. The severity of the injury is not known at this time.
Senior captain Jordan Murphy chipped in with 12 points and 10 rebounds to start the season off in a performance that surely portends to more double-doubles in the future. His workman like presence on the boards will continue to be much needed. The scoring, however, may prove to be more optional with better offensive depth across the roster. Another local freshman, guard Gabe Kalscheur had a strong debut going 2 of 3 from 3-point land and scoring 8 points while adding 2 assists and 2 rebounds all the while looking comfortable on the court.
The Gophers gained traction after both teams had a few sloppy possessions to open the game and took an early 14-3 lead finding open looks close to the bucket and from distance. After a rocky middle portion of the first half, that including a short period of time where the Mavericks took the lead on the backs of Zack Jackson and Wanjang Tut, Minnesota eventually claimed control of the contest. A late 26-5 run at the end of the first half, sparked by Oturu and smart play from Amir Coffey and Isaiah Washington, gave the Gophers a 50-31 lead and more or less ended the competitive portion of the game. Speaking of Coffey, he was the leading scoring with 18 points on just 7 shots, an incredibly efficient output that included going 8-8 from the line. With 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals, Coffey seems to have come into this new season fully healthy and ready to lead the squad.
Dupree McBrayer showed some marksmanship from deep in this game, going 5-6 from three and scoring 17 points. If McBrayer can shoot at least 40% this season, it would be a boon for a Gopher offense that at times last season was starving for production from places besides Murphy. Not to go unmentioned was Washington, who garnered 11 assists in 24 minutes of action, including two highlights to the third local freshman on this year’s team, Jarvis Omersa in the ladder portion of the second half. If Washington is able to be more of a distributor and cut down on bad looks, he will be most helpful in instigating the Minnesota offense.
Omaha is projected to be a pretty bad team this year, so this performance isn’t necessarily anything to write home about. However, putting this game away essentially by halftime is something to build off of and the fact that the local freshmen are already contributing significantly is a positive sign for the future. The Gophers will find themselves in a much more difficult contest in their next game as the Utes of Utah come to Williams Arena on November 12 at 8:00 PM.