The Gophers men’s basketball team lost its final 17 games last year when trailing at halftime and went 2-19 overall in those instances.
But it didn’t have Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch.
“This is not last year’s team,” coach Richard Pitino said.
The two new Gophers starters and Minnesota natives combined for 16 points during a 28-3 second-half run Monday night en route to an 84-67 victory over Texas-Arlington in front of an announced crowd of 7,986 at Williams Arena.
“Honestly, I didn’t know the run was that big until after the game,” said Lynch, who led six double-figure scorers for the Gophers with 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting and three blocks in 16 minutes. “We were just out there playing free and guarding the three, which was the biggest problem in the first half. We continued to rebound, the main emphasis in this game.”
Dupree McBrayer and Nate Mason also had 13 points apiece for the Gophers (2-0), who are already a quarter of the way to their eight victories of 2015-16.
A proven defender after two seasons at Illinois State, Lynch has displayed an improved offensive game after sitting out last season because of his transfer home. The 6-foot-10 junior from Edina scored on drives, dunks and hook shots, and he had 10 second-half points.
Lynch scored six in a row to open the second half before sitting down with this third foul after the Gophers tied the score 43-43. He wanted to give younger teammates a boost when he saw them frustrated at halftime.
“The game was not over by any means,” Lynch said. “All it takes is a few runs and staying confident. It can change just like that.”
Coffey, who scored 13 points Friday while becoming the first Gophers freshman to start in a season opener since 2011, finished with 10 points, all in the second half. The 2016 Minnesota Mr. Basketball from Hopkins has shown why he is the highest-rated recruit to sign with Pitino.
The 6-foot-8 Coffey’s transition dunk Monday tied the score less than three minutes into the second half.
The Barn crowd ignited once Mason beat the shot clock with a long, high-arching three-pointer, giving the Gophers a 46-44 lead. Coffey then scored eight of the next 10 points before leaving the game to resounding cheers with his team ahead 56-44.
The Gophers found themselves behind 41-35 at halftime after Texas Arlington (1-1) went on an 8-2 run to end the first half, capped by Erick Neal’s fourth three-pointer.
The Mavericks, who won 24 games while beating Ohio State and Memphis last season, hit nine three-pointers in the first half to take control. But Neal went scoreless and his team went 1-for-8 from long distance in the second half.
After 10 three-pointers propelled the Gophers in Friday’s 86-74 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette, they shot only 4-for-23 from beyond the arc Monday.
Pitino’s team had to find another source of offense. The Gophers outrebounded Arlington 47-32 and shot 30-for-40 on free throws. Jordan Murphy shot just 2-for-9 from the floor, but he was 7-for-8 on free throws and finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Eric Curry added 12 points and seven rebounds.
The Mavericks, favorites to win their conference, started four seniors and a junior, compared to the Gophers’ two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman. Sun Belt Preseason Player of the Year Kevin Hervey didn’t start for the second consecutive game coming back from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in January.
Hervey was held to only eight points on 1-for-6 shooting in 23 minutes.
After passing their first big test vs. Texas Arlington, the Gophers could be challenged again Friday against St. John’s and Nov. 22 against Arkansas. But Pitino now has a team that can compete against tougher opponents, even when falling behind.
“I was extremely concerned with this game,” Pitino said. “I was really nervous with this game, about as nervous as I’ve ever been.”