A near disaster turned into a major breakthrough for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
After again squandering a double-digit lead on their home floor, the Gophers stabilized just in time to sneak past Iowa in two overtimes, needing a late layup from Nate Mason to tie the game in regulation, a pair of Iowa misses at the end of regulation and overtime and a Herculean 25-point, 19-rebound, box-score-stuffing performance from Jordan Murphy.
“Extremely proud of our guys,” said Pitino. “Probably the most proud I’ve been since I’ve been here.”
Murphy’s Career Game
Finishing just one rebound shy of a 25/20 outing, Murphy contributed his finest game of the season. While the display wasn’t his highest rebounding output of the season (that came Dec. 27 against Michigan State with 21), it was a career-high night offensively for the sophomore, who’d been held to single digits in seven of the past eight games.
Murphy scored most of his points in the paint thanks to some savvy movements off the ball and a nose for boards, as he snatched six offensive rebounds, including one that turned into a buzzer-beating putback to end the first half and give the Gophers a 40-29 lead. “It started with my rebounding,” said Murphy. “I knew I was just getting it going on the rebounding end, that’s what really led everything to get going like that. My teammates were finding me when I was open and stuff like that. I was really confident down the stretch.”
Pitino said Murphy’s career night was a result of his “sheer will.”
“I didn’t run a play for him,” said Pitino, “he didn’t make any jump shots, and I made that comment that he’s not a great scorer, and that’s not a knock on him. He’s gotta go find his, and that other part will definitely evolve, and he just found it tonight. He was getting offensive rebounds — what’d he have, six? He was hiding behind the defense, guys were finding him, so that’s what he needs to do. I challenged him, too, on getting more shot blocks. Did that tonight.”
Murphy finished with four blocks, to be specific, though it arguably should have been five. The officials whistled Murphy for his fifth foul in double overtime on what appeared to be a clean rejection.
Moments before, though, Murphy converted an and-1 slam for his 24th and 25th points of the night and gave the Gophers a five-point double-overtime lead.
Minnesota survived thanks in large part to Murphy, but without his effort the Gophers could have left shaking their heads over another collapse.
The Gophers led at halftime for the fifth consecutive time in a home conference game. They’d been 1-3 in the previous four tries and, true to the trend, saw a 56-43 lead over the Hawkeyes quickly turn to 57-56 in favor of the border rival. Fran McCaffery called for a zone trap that befuddled Minnesota and led to the 14-0 run. Dupree McBrayer turned it over three times and Akeem Springs turned it over once during the spurt as the Gophers saw their advantage dissipate. “We were playing timid,” said Mason. “We didn’t know whether we should try to get open and pass through it.”
“They did an awful job for a couple minutes,” said Pitino. “We made one adjustment and put Amir [Coffey] there. I think it might have helped a little bit, but the biggest thing is go attack it. ‘You’re showing them that you don’t want to attack it,’ is what I had said to them, and I think when they started being aggressive with it, it got Iowa a little bit on their heels.”
The Gophers kept their cool for the remainder of the game and finished with 14 turnovers to Iowa’s 18. Minnesota won the points-off-turnovers battle 22-17.
One Mason Inspires Another
Before the game, Pitino showed his team a clip from the Kansas-Kansas State game played on Feb. 6, a game that the Jayhawks won 74-71.
“We talked about making winning plays, and Frank Mason made a play,” said Pitino, referring to the Kansas guard. “It was unbelievable. I didn’t watch the game. But he dove into the crowd in like the fourth row at Kansas State, came back after like three passes and stole the ball. And we just talked about, in order to win league games, rivalry games, border-battle games, those are the type of plays that you need to make. You’re going to be exhausted, you’re going to be tired, but you’ve just got to fight through it.”
Another Mason proceeded to make a few winning plays of his own. Nate Mason, in this case, scored 25 points, registered seven assists, made all five of his throws and scored nine points in the overtime sessions.
But his biggest play came in the waning seconds of regulation. “I think it was Murph or Reggie that came up and set the screen, and I saw [Cordell] Pemsl switch in front of me, and I knew he couldn’t stay in front of me, so I drove right and just kept going.”
Mason’s layup tied it at 77, a crucial play coming from a junior who’d missed a handful of late-game shots this season. “[Coach Pitino] showed us the clips of Kansas and how tired they were and how they pushed through versus Kansas State, and that just motivated us,” he said.
- The Hawkeyes were furious at what transpired before Mason’s tying shot. After forcing a turnover by Akeem Springs, Iowa’s Brady Ellingson faced a double team from Murphy that resulted in a jump ball awarded to Minnesota on the alternating possession. For one, Murphy appeared to be standing with one foot out of bounds as he forced the held ball, and Ellingson had attempted to call timeout before the whistle. Though McCaffery had reason to be upset, he refused to address the call after the game. “Don’t do it,” he warned a prodding reporter.
- Springs had another solid game in the starting lineup, scoring 17 points. Though he missed all six of his 2-point field goals, Springs went 5 of 8 from downtown.
- The Gophers had a season-high 14 blocks, including six from Reggie Lynch.
- Lynch fouled out in overtime, his seventh foul-out in 11 Big Ten games.
- Minnesota scored 100-plus points for the first time since Dec 27, 2014 when they notched 108 points against UNC-Wilmington.
Up Next: Minnesota has a quick turnaround as they travel to Rutgers for a 12 p.m. Eastern tip on Saturday.