NEW YORK – With upsets happening almost too frequently to count in college basketball this season, the Gophers came to the Barclays Center Classic not wanting to add to that list.
In their opening game Friday, the No. 14 Gophers played arguably their best game defensively, holding Massachusetts to 32 percent shooting in a 69-51 victory at the 2,500-seat Steinberg Wellness Center at Long Island University-Brooklyn.
Jordan Murphy again set the tone with 13 of his team-high 16 points in the first half, to go with 11 rebounds. Amir Coffey added 10 points for the Gophers (6-0), who play No. 25 Alabama on Saturday at the Barclays Center.
“We were the most fundamentally sound today,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “We guarded their ball screens well. They run really good stuff. I thought we were really, really connected.”
No. 2 Arizona and No. 18 Purdue both lost twice in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Iowa was upset by Louisiana and South Dakota State in the Cayman Islands. And Northwestern also has two losses this year to fall out of the AP top 25.
With Big Ten favorite Michigan State also falling to No. 1 Duke, the Gophers are the only team projected to finish in the top four in the conference that remains undefeated. The Gophers’ first matchup against a ranked opponent comes Saturday, but Murphy said team captains made sure players didn’t dismiss UMass.
“It would’ve been easy for us to overlook them and look forward to Alabama,” Murphy said. “We had to really lock in on the scouting report and know who we were guarding. At one point, I think we had nine straight stops.”
The Minutemen (3-2) had a size advantage in the frontcourt with 6-foot-11, 310-pound Rashaan Holloway and 6-10, 255-pound Malik Hines. But the Gophers used their quickness and sped up the tempo early to take control and force turnovers.
Murphy, the Big Ten’s leading scorer and rebounder, scored the game’s first six points. UMass cut it to 18-14 after a three-point play by Luwane Pipkins, but the Gophers then blew it open with a 14-0 run.
Michael Hurt’s three-pointer started the rally. Murphy followed with his first three-pointer of the season. Nate Mason raced ahead of the defense for a layup in transition to make it 32-14 at 4:23.
The Gophers held UMass to 29 percent shooting in the first half to lead 40-21 at halftime.
In the second half, Holloway picked up his third foul in less than a minute. Coffey scored back-to-back baskets to give Minnesota its largest lead at 26.
UMass coach Matt McCall, who like Pitino is a former Florida assistant under Billy Donovan, had high praise for the Gophers. “[Pitino] put them in a position where they’re a top-10 team,” McCall said. “He disagrees with me, but I told him I think they are a Final Four team. They’ve got the pieces.”
New York natives Isaiah Washington and Dupree McBrayer and New Jersey native Jamir Harris had family and friends in attendance. Washington, who was last season’s New York Mr. Basketball, finished with seven points for the Gophers. McBrayer and Harris added eight and three points, respectively.
Former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who was fired after FBI probe allegations surfaced of his assistant paying a recruit, was in attendance to watch his son for the first time this season.
“They have a really talented team,” Rick Pitino said. “He’s recruited well. These guys have been playing together for a long time. I think they’re going to have a really good year.”