Richard Pitino saw his Gophers men’s basketball team show some toughness Saturday after giving up a three-pointer to Iowa State to send Saturday’s secret scrimmage into overtime.
Facing that type of pressure situation on the road didn’t rattle a team with seven newcomers. The Gophers got 17 points apiece from sophomore guards Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur in a 77-68 victory against the Cyclones in Ames.
Four of Minnesota’s five starters scored in double figures, including sophomore center Daniel Oturu’s 13 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. Junior guard Payton Willis also contributed with 12 points, including two of his three three-pointers in overtime.
Despite committing 20 turnovers, the Gophers held Iowa State to 30.6 percent shooting from the field (22-for-72) and 21.9 percent from three-point range (7-for-32). They also held a 51-40 rebounding edge.
“They were good when they needed to be good,” Pitino said in a video after the game. “Turnovers were something we talked a lot about cutting down. Twenty turnovers and 22 fouls that’s inefficient basketball. But there was a lot of bright moments. I know we won, but I don’t think either coach is coaching that way. [Coaches were] trying to look at a bunch of different things. We’ve got a lot of new guys. They’ve got a lot of new guys. Step in the right direction from a learning standpoint.”
The Gophers lost starters Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer from last year’s 22-win NCAA tournament team. Replacing those three players in Saturday’s starting lineup were Carr, Willis and Drexel graduate transfer Alihan Demir, who had four points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.
Demir and Oturu both fouled out in the game in the frontcourt. The Gophers had support off the bench from sophomore Jarvis Omersa (five rebounds, a steal and a block) and senior Michael Hurt (six points, four rebounds and a steal).
The Gophers saw an 11-point first-half lead cut to just 29-27 at halftime. The Cyclones then took a five-point lead with 13:49 remaining in the second half before Minnesota took control again.
Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton’s three-pointer sent the game into overtime, but Minnesota outscored its opponent 14-5 in the extra period, which included a 9-1 run.
“I think that Jarvis’ energy was really, really good,” Pitino said. “I think Tre’ Williams in the second half had some good moments. I think Michael Hurt played like a senior should play. He was terrific. We had a segment in the second half where that lineup of Tre’, Mike, Jarvis and [freshman Bryan Greenlee] really brought us back. So, Mike did what a senior needs to do. He was terrific off the bench. Guys needed to make the plays made the plays. Whether it was Payton with a big three. Daniel with a big move. Still a work n progress, but a nice step in the right direction.”
You can’t take too much from the stat sheet in a closed scrimmage, but the Gophers’ starters obviously carried the load with 59 points from Carr, Kalscheur, Willis and Oturu.
Pitino’s talented freshmen class wasn’t relied on too much Saturday in their first game. Williams, Greenlee, Isaiah Ihnen and Sam Freeman combined for just five points. But all but Freeman played at least 10 minutes.
The Cyclones, who got 15 points from Solomon Young, were predicted to finish seventh in the Big 12 in the preseason poll. Haliburton was a pick for All-Big 12 first team. A first-round projected pick in 2020 NBA mock drafts, the 6-foot-5 sophomore was held to just nine points on 3-for-12 shooting from the field (1-for-6 from three), but he had eight assists. Carr spent the majority of the game guarding Haliburton, but Williams helped to shut him down in the second half.
Saturday was a good test for the Gophers, who play six major conference opponents in nonconference play this season, the most since 1991-92. Minnesota’s exhibition game is Oct. 28 vs. Southwest Minnesota State and the season opener is Nov. 5 vs. Cleveland State.
“We’ve got to understand the physicality and the speed of high-major basketball,” Pitino said. “The days of easy November and December schedules [are gone]. We can’t do that. Every opportunity we get on the court as a team you’ve got to take advantage of. I do think we took advantage of it tonight.”