Richard Pitino’s Twitter game was on fire early this week when he was quick to post a blog about his team’s performance after the first scrimmage in front of Gophers faithful at Williams Arena.
Fans love hearing Pitino’s player evaluations. He doesn’t hold back. He’s honest. He shows off the comedic side of his personality, too.
There was nothing funny, though, about his thoughts of Minnesota’s defense during the scrimmage. The sixth-year Gophers coach graded his players a D-minus as a group. They weren’t active and disruptive.
Spirited practices this week in response turned into a stifling effort defensively and a high-scoring affair in Thursday’s 109-53 exhibition victory against Minnesota Duluth at the Barn.
“What we always write on the board is defend, rebound and run,” said Pitino, as the Gophers prepared to open the season Tuesday against Nebraska Omaha. “If we can get out on the break, I think we’re pretty hard to guard. So we’ve got to defend, rebound the ball and get out and go.”
Isaiah Washington benefited the most from the fast-paced game, coming off the bench to lead seven players in double figures with 18 points. Cretin Derham-Hall product Daniel Oturu had 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks for the Gophers, who shot 67 percent and hit 10 three-pointers.
Duluth was held to 29 percent shooting, while being outscored 44-6 in fast-break points.
“We talked in the Maroon and Gold scrimmage about sprinting the court was a weakness,” Pitino said. “They clearly listened there.”
Minnesota showed off a more up-tempo, free-flowing style. Defensive stops were followed by quick outlet passes to get the ball up the court, which meant layups and other high-percentage shots. Pitino’s team went 11-for-11 from the field to open the game, including a give-and-go sequence between Washington and Oturu for a dunk and a 24-9 lead to cap a 10-0 run.
The Bulldogs went scoreless for 3 minutes, 28 seconds in the first half and missed 11 consecutive shots to fall behind 59-20 on two free throws from Dupree McBrayer with 1:14 left in the half.
McBrayer missed Sunday’s scrimmage to deal with a family emergency, but he returned to the team and had 11 points in the first half to lead all scorers.
Minnesota led 61-25 at halftime, while holding its Division II foe to 10-for-40 shooting from the field.
Oturu started at center in place of injured big man Eric Curry, who is out at least a month after knee surgery Monday. Minnesota outscored Duluth 52-18 in points in the paint — and that’s with All-Big Ten senior forward Jordan Murphy getting basically a night off with 11 points in 13 minutes.
The Gophers had all 10 players who played double-digit minutes get on the scoreboard, including newcomers Gabe Kalscheur (12 points), Jarvis Omersa (11 points), Brock Stull (10 points and six assists) and Matz Stockman.