Minnesota defeated #19 Michigan 75-67 on Sunday at Williams Arena. The Gophers improve to 3-3 in conference play and 9-7 on the season. Daniel Oturu led all scorers with 30 points.
This game was fun as hell to watch, and even more fun to be a Minnesota partisan. After an early barrage of three point shots from behind the arc, Michigan led the Gophers 30-19 with a bit less than five minutes to play. Daniel Oturu (who we will return to) had carried the Gophers with no help from teammates up until that point. Over the last 4:52 of the first half, the Gophers went on an 11-1 run, led by Marcus Carr to head into the locker room down 31-30.
In the second half, the Gophers continued to feed the best big man in the Big Ten. Daniel Oturu was astonishing on the offensive floor in this game. He finished with 30 points on 13-18 shooting along with seven rebounds. Oturu showed off a complete offensive game: power spin moves off the block for dunks and layups, a smooth mid-range game against sagging defenders, and made a three point shot. Michigan threw multiple different defenders at him with no real success. Had he not had to leave the game for several minutes with a bruised shoulder, the rebounds would have certainly been in the double digits. The shoulder also affected Oturu’s free throw shooting, as he was an uncharacteristic 3-7 from the behind on the arc, with most of the misses occurring following the shoulder injury.
Fortunately for Oturu, he had help in the second half. Marcus Carr and Alihan Demir combined to provide the necessary second and third options for Minnesota. Carr has played at a high level for the last month, and it is easy to see why the Gophers need him to be a stable leader in the back-court. The sophomore point guard had 21 points on 7-13 shooting, along with 12 assists, 4 rebounds, and no turnovers. Carr regularly was able to get in the lane and drive downhill for layups against Michigan’s defense.
Beyond Carr, Alihan Demir stepped in to provide Minnesota a third scoring option. Michigan’s constant attention on Oturu gave the graduate transfer options to attack down low, and Demir made the most of his opportunities. He put up 13 points on 4-6 shooting and 5-6 from the free throw line. Demir had, to my eyes, his best game as a Gopher, and the growth from the beginning of the season where he could not make a layup and was a defensive liability has been quite pleasant to witness.
It was fortunate that Minnesota had a career high from Daniel Oturu because Payton Willis and Gabe Kalscheur remain missing in action on the offensive side of the ball. The pair combined to be 2-11 from the field and 2-9 from distance. Willis made a key (and his only) three pointer late to seal the game, while Kalscheur can be forgiven because of the amount of energy he had to exert on the defensive end of the court. As the primary defender of Xavier Simpson, Kalscheur made the veteran point guard work hard to get his points. Nevertheless, the twosome can break out of their shooting slump anytime now as far as I am concerned.
Minnesota’s defense held the the Wolverines to just a bit over a point per possession, which was not expected after the early barrage. Richard Pitino made several defensive adjustments in the second half to counter Michigan’s offensive sets. The players then executed that plan at a much higher level. Pitino also kept the bench short at only seven players, with both Tre Williams and Jarvis Omersa contributing points and defensive hustle as reserves. Omersa’s physicality was particularly important during the several minutes that Oturu was out with injury.
After another conference game with an offensive efficiency rating of over 1.1 points per possessions, the Gophers are a top 20 offense in the country. Seeing that two of their key contributors are still finding their footing, I remain optimistic that we have not yet seen the ceiling of this offense.
The path to the NCAA tournament remains clear. The Gophers need to hold serve at home and steal some games on the road.