These “secret scrimmages” aren’t very secret anymore. We know when and where they'll be played and the box scores are now released. Maybe one day fans and media will get to watch a scrimmage like Sunday's Minnesota vs. Creighton matchup.
But with nobody but coaching staffs and players in attendance, Jordan Murphy, Reggie Lynch and Nate Mason combined for 61 points to defeat the Bluejays 91-79 in front of empty seats at Williams Arena.
The Big Ten’s No. 15 ranked team in the nation in the coaches’ poll pulled away from its Big East opponent in the second half after leading 43-37 at halftime. Murphy, a junior forward, had 14 of his team-high 24 points in the first half, while shooting 10-for-16 from the field and grabbing eight rebounds in 28 minutes.
Mason scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half, including all of his 6-for-8 shooting from the foul line. Lynch finished with 18 points and led the team with nine rebounds and four blocks in 29 minutes.
The debut of high-profile freshman Isaiah Washington came with no spectators, but he had 11 points on 3-for-8 shooting, four assists and two turnovers in 16 minutes off the bench.
Amir Coffey didn’t shoot much (five points on 1-for-2 shooting), but the sophomore guard led the Gophers with eight assists, to go with six rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.
Lynch, the 2017 Big Ten defensive player of the year, was plagued by foul trouble last season. But surprise, surprise, he didn’t foul out Sunday. Imagine what his numbers will be this year if that’s the case on a regular basis. Lynch had two fouls in each half, as did Murphy. Backup center Bakary Konate fouled out with two points and four rebounds in 11 minutes.
Konate will need to be more reliable to play behind Lynch this season after Eric Curry’s season-ending knee injury. Curry, also in the power forward rotation last year, was a frontcourt scoring option off the bench.
But where will that bench scoring come after Washington this year? It’s pretty tough to judge off just one scrimmage, but Konate, Davonte Fitzgerald, Jamir Harris and Michael Hurt only combined for just five bench points.
Fitzgerald, a junior forward, just getting on the court was a great sign for Minnesota, though. The former Texas A&M transfer missed the last two seasons after sitting out and suffering a knee injury. He went scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting but had six rebounds in 12 minutes.
Again, it’s not much to evaluate but Minnesota’s defense appears to be a force again. The Gophers scored 19 points off 13 turnovers and held Creighton to 40 percent shooting. They also recorded six blocks and eight steals.
Offensively, Minnesota shot 27-for-41 from inside the arc (66 percent), but went just 4-for-20 from three-point range (20 percent). The starting guards were 1-for-10 from three combined, including Mason’s 1-for-6. Washington, Murphy and Harris also hit one trey apiece.
Last year’s 19-point win against DePaul in the closed scrimmage was revealing in that Milwaukee-Wisconsin transfer Akeem Springs was a potential starter. Springs had 21 points with seven three-pointers. He didn’t start right away, but the senior wing eventually was the team’s best leader and three-point shooter.
This time around, Minnesota’s scrimmage against Creighton shows us that Murphy could be coming into his own as a go-to scorer. His four turnovers (all in first half) are likely a result of him trying too hard at times to get his shot. But that could be limited with more time in a new role.
Mason and Lynch are seniors and arguably the two most important players on the team. The Gophers are hard to beat when Mason is scoring, defending and getting his teammates involved (five assists and one turnover vs. Creighton). An early sign of what type of year he might have was when the All-Big Ten point guard had 12 assists with one turnovers against DePaul last year.
Finally, Lynch being able to play in the high 20s in minutes will increase his scoring and rebounding numbers from last year.
This was a game that doesn’t count but let the excitement begin. This Gophers team isn’t a finished product but it has a chance to be special.
-- Creighton's Marcus Foster led his team with 19 points. Martin Krampelj and Khyri Thomas added 16 and 13 points, respectively. The Bluejays, who were picked fifth in the Big East preseason poll, were without Syracuse transfer Kaleb Joseph, who has a hamstring injury. But Foster was a Big East all-preseason first team guard and Thomas was co-conference defensive player of the year last season. This was a good test for Pitino's squad.
-- Lynch (knee), Fitzgerald (knee) and McBrayer (leg) had their minutes restricted from contact in practice the last few weeks. But they all played Sunday. McBrayer had nine points, four rebounds and three steals in 23 minutes.
-- Richard Pitino's starters Sunday were Mason, McBrayer, Coffey, Murphy and Lynch. That lineup started 28.7 percent of the games in 2016-17 season, the most of any five.