SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Amir Coffey didn’t have a great game if you just looked at the box score without watching the end of the Gophers basketball team’s 56-52 win against Vanderbilt.
Anyone who watched the last five minutes would agree that Coffey is the reason why Minnesota didn’t suffer its second straight loss.
Coffey, a 6-foot-8 freshman and the team’s leading scorer, had no field goals until his team was down six points under the five-minute mark. He then scored six of his nine points down the stretch for the Gophers, who won for the first time in two seasons after trailing with five minutes left.
The Commodores took a 52-50 lead, but Coffey answered with a jumper and running layup for the go-ahead score with 58 seconds remaining in the game.
“He’s a talented kid,” sophomore Jordan Murphy said. “He can pass, he can score. Those two important buckets didn’t surprise me. I knew as soon as it was going up it was going in. I had complete confidence in him.”
In the last two games, the former Hopkins standout was held under double figures for the first two times this season. He has 16 points combined on 6-for-17 shooting, but Coffey didn’t let those shooting struggles hurt his confidence when the Gophers needed him most.
“Amir Coffey made two big-time shots,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “We kept talking about catching the ball in the middle of the zone and make a play, and he finally did it. Then he got on the break and had the runner. He’s a talented player and did a lot of great things.”
BACKCOURT ASSIST: It wasn’t a great shooting night for the Gophers’ starting backcourt. Coffey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer were all held under double figures in the same game for the first time this season. They combined to shoot just 7-for-24 from the field Saturday, but they contributed in different ways.
Besides Coffey’s late-game scoring, Mason and McBrayer combined for 11 of the team’s 15 assists with just two turnovers. McBrayer’s alley-oop to Coffey for a dunk was the highlight of the game and turning point in the second half after Vanderbilt pulled ahead.
BLOCK PARTY: Lynch had four of his six blocks in the first half. But the 6-10 Edina native’s two blocks in the last minute were the biggest defensive plays of the game. Vanderbilt’s 7-1 center Luke Kornet tried to break a 52-52 tie when Lynch sent his layup attempt right back.
The Big Ten's shot blocking leader is now averaging 3.57 blocks per game, which ranks fifth nationally.
MURPHY'S BACK: Murphy broke out of a two-game slump. He had two more points Saturday than he scored in the two previous games combined, finishing with 16 points on 8-for-17 shooting. Murphy had 13 points and 10 of his 14 rebounds in the second half. It was his third double-double this season.
Murphy, Lynch, Eric Curry and Bakary Konate helped the Gophers outscore Vanderbilt 34-8 in points in the paint.