When Richard Pitino decided to impose a Twitter ban on his players this week, he had no idea his Gophers basketball team would come out flat to open its exhibition game Thursday night.
Coming off an embarrassing 8-23 season, the Gophers’ fourth-year basketball coach had talked about having his most talented team yet, but it took longer than expected to handle Bemidji State in a 83-59 victory at Williams Arena.
At least Pitino and his players could avoid seeing the frustrated tweets from fans watching a Division II opponent lead for most of the first half.
“I think it’s poison and I like our guys to stay away from it,” Pitino said about Twitter. “There’s just too much negativity out there, and I don’t want our guys reading that.”
The angry tweets turned to excitement, though, when Bemidji State was eventually overpowered by the Gophers, who used a 14-2 run in the last four minutes of the first half to lead 38-29 at halftime. Jordan Murphy finished with 22 points and five blocks. Eric Curry had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Dupree McBrayer added 18 points on 6-for-14 shooting.
“We came out slow, I think, but we picked it up in the end,” said Murphy, who had 12 points in the second half. “I really wasn’t discouraged by our start. I knew we were going to pick it up.”
Reggie Lynch, an Edina native who sat out last season after transferring from Illinois State, had 10 points, four rebounds and four blocks before fouling out in 14 minutes in his debut.
Minnesota was shorthanded with leading scorer Nate Mason missing the game because of a concussion suffered in practice Tuesday. Mason, a junior guard, rested for precautionary reasons and will play in the Nov. 11 season opener, Pitino said.
Playing without Mason wasn’t supposed to be a significant factor against the Beavers, who fell to Northern Iowa 71-48 in an exhibition game last week.
But the Gophers shot 8-for-25 from the field in the first 14 minutes.
A jumper from Shane White gave Bemidji State a 27-24 lead near the four-minute mark, but Murphy showed why he was named to the All-Big Ten freshman team last season.
Murphy’s layup with 2:16 left in the first half gave the Gophers their first lead of the game 29-27. He scored seven consecutive points during a 9-0 run.
Lynch was cleared to play a week ago after recovering from knee surgery. The Gophers also have Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou as options in the middle. But Diedhiou didn’t play and Konate saw the court in the last five minutes when Minnesota already had pulled away in the second half.
Curry, who played extended minutes because of Lynch’s foul trouble, has a chance to provide an inside presence.
The 6-9, 235-pound Memphis native stole the spotlight from locals and fellow freshmen Amir Coffey and Michael Hurt, who also made their debut. Coffey finished with six points, six rebounds and five assists. Hurt had six points.
“I think we got a steal there [in Curry],” Pitino said. “I think it’s natural when you have two of the better players in the state like Mike and Amir, everybody’s going to talk about the in-state guys. But Eric’s future is extremely bright.”