After his 11-blocks, zero-fouls performance for the Gophers in Saturday’s 81-71 victory against Penn State, Reggie Lynch left the floor to chants of “Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!” and a standing ovation from the sold-out Williams Arena crowd.
Lynch’s teammates met him with high-fives and slapped at his dreadlocks as he sat on the bench, congratulating the 6-10 center for setting the U’s single-season blocks record. Their nickname for him is “Block Nation.”
“The chant was awesome,” said Lynch, a junior from Edina. “It felt great.”
Years before Lynch was helping the Gophers (22-7, 10-6 Big Ten) make a run to the NCAA tournament this season, he was crafting the skill that would make him one of the most formidable interior defenders in the country and a candidate for Big Ten defensive player of the year.
His mother, Marlene Lynch, has a favorite video of when her son went on a blocking spree in a youth basketball game in Edina. An opposing sixth-grader kept scoring on Lynch’s team.
“He wasn’t playing Reggie’s position, but I remember Reggie’s face and it looked like, ‘This must stop,’ ” Marlene said. “He decided he’s going out there and trying to stop this kid. I just saw him take it on. That’s all he’s ever really done.”
Former Gophers and NBA big man Jim Petersen compares Lynch’s shot-blocking ability to Randy Breuer, who had the program’s single-season mark for blocks (87) before Lynch broke it. Petersen and Breuer played together at the U from 1980-83.
Lynch, who has 95 blocks going into Thursday’s home finale against Nebraska, leads the Big Ten and ranks second nationally with 3.4 blocks per game. His 11 blocks were the best in Division I in two years, and it came one away from the Big Ten record set by Gophers great Mychal Thompson in 1976.
“Brew was 7-3 and one of the original Gopher rim protectors,” said Petersen, a Timberwolves TV analyst. “He was a great weakside defender and great on-ball defender. It was hard to score over Randy. He was big, but he ran pretty well. Defensively, he had that same kind of instinct that Reggie has.”
Petersen said awareness, unselfishness and timing make a great shot blocker. Awareness enables a player to see the court and know where to go. Being unselfish makes a player not hesitate to leave his man to help. There a lot of players with size and length, but Lynch has perfected timing and his ability to swat the ball at the right moment.
“When you watch Reggie play, he’s always got his head on a swivel,” Petersen said. “As a perimeter defender you can be more aggressive and get into passing lanes, because you know if your man gets by you, you got that Band-Aid.”
Before transferring back home to Minnesota last year, Lynch needed only two seasons at Illinois State to become No. 2 on the school’s career blocks leaderboard with 189.
Lynch watched videos of his blocks, which showed him how often he blocked the ball back into play and rejected with his left as well as his right hand. He embraced that to become even better.
“Whenever people talk about shot-blocking, they say instinctive,” Lynch said. “That you can’t teach that. I definitely think it’s true. Some games I get only left-hand blocks. I really don’t think about it. Even though I want to be known as more than a shot-blocker, I want to be one of the best in the country.”
Lynch, who averages 8.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 22.3 minutes this year, is trying to be the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in block percentage in three seasons, also accomplishing that at Illinois State in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
After fouling out eight times this season, a huge recent step for Lynch has been staying out of foul trouble.
Coach Richard Pitino was more impressed with zero fouls Saturday than the 11 blocks. So was Lynch.
“He’s anchoring the defense for us,” Pitino said. “Hopefully, he can get to a point where he can learn from the foul woes this year and turn it into next year where he can be on the court a lot more. I do think he’s getting better offensively. He’s getting stronger and better at rebounding as well.”