WASHINGTON – Dupree McBrayer started the first 19 games of the season for the Gophers, but he lost his starting spot to Akeem Springs in January.
McBrayer scored 14 points Saturday in his first start since Jan. 14, but the Gophers didn’t adjust well to the new lineup in an 84-77 loss against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament semifinals at the Verizon Center.
Springs started 13 consecutive games, but the senior captain was lost for the season after suffering a right Achilles’ tendon injury in Friday’s win against Michigan State. He sat on the bench with crutches and a walking boot Saturday.
McBrayer played well offensively in 40 minutes, but he admitted to not communicating well on defense. It’s not in his nature to speak up on the court.
“I’m not the vocal person out there,” he said. “Akeem is the more vocal one. He leads by example, too. We have different personalities. That really showed, because I’m not a very talkative person. It was hard, so I guess I’m going to have to get out of my comfort zone.”
For the second straight game, though, McBrayer provided a second-half spark with his outside shooting. The 6-foot-5 New York native nailed back-to-back three-pointers during a 19-6 run that tied the game 55-55 with 13 minutes left. But the Gophers couldn’t pull ahead after erasing a 13-point second-half deficit.
Amir Coffey scored only two of his 13 points in the second half. The freshman guard from Hopkins said the Gophers have to figure out how to replace Springs’ on-court presence.
“Akeem and Dupree are two different players,” Coffey said. “But we’ll get used to it. We kind of had to make that adjustment [on the fly] today. We got off to a slow start. But we’ll get it, because we have a week to practice a lot of different situations and try to get better.”
Frontcourt foul woes
Typically when the Gophers’ frontcourt gets into foul trouble, Reggie Lynch is the one fouling out.
But Eric Curry fouled out Saturday after scoring two points on 1-for-6 shooting and grabbing eight rebounds in 19 minutes. Jordan Murphy had 13 points and nine rebounds, but he also had four fouls.
“We knew it was going to be a defensive adjustment going against Michigan,” Lynch said of the Wolverines’ sharpshooting big men. “But once we figured it out, we were able to make a run.”
Lynch fouled out eight times this year, but he hasn’t done that in seven straight games. He finished with 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting, to go with five rebounds and three fouls in 26 minutes Saturday.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino sat Lynch for most of the first half after he picked up two fouls. He used Curry as the backup center and not 6-11 junior Bakary Konate, who didn’t play.
Overall, Pitino wasn’t pleased with the defense from his frontcourt, which only had one block.
“The bigs were not getting their hands up,” he said. “Our frontcourt is extremely important. Whoever it is we play [in the NCAA tournament], we got to show great toughness.”