Richard Pitino saw his Gophers basketball team wasn’t ready for a tough nonconference schedule early after three straight losses. Returning home, though, meant a chance to bounce back in a big way Thursday night.
All the issues that were exposed during a losing streak against high-major opponents might not be fixed yet. Still, the Gophers got some of their confidence back with 14 three-pointers in an 82-57 win against Central Michigan in front of 8,566 at Williams Arena.
“It was a great step in the right direction,” Pitino said. “It felt great to be back home in front of our fans. Always appreciative of them. I think it’s good to get the guys’ offensive confidence going, as well as the defensive confidence going.”
Pitino’s new backcourt of Marcus Carr, Payton Willis and Gabe Kalscheur broke out of a slump to combine for 52 points and 10 three-pointers for the Gophers (2-3), who hit the second-most three-pointers in school history.
The 14-for-30 shooting on threes Thursday tied the most since the U reached that mark against Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 13, 2002. The school record is 16 three-pointers vs. Michigan State in 2001.
“We talked about it since the summertime,” said Carr, who had 19 points and seven assists. “We’re very aware of our ability to shoot the ball.”
The Gophers outshot their Mid-American Conference foe 59% to 31% in the first half to take a 48-29 lead. It was the most complete performance so far this season in response to Pitino challenging his team to be more disciplined.
Central Michigan (4-1) entered the game scoring 109 points per game to lead Division I college teams, while also having one of the fastest teams in the country.
The run-and-gun style fit right into how the Gophers played at home in an 85-50 win against Cleveland State in the opener Nov. 5. They drilled 13 of 29 three-point shots that night, the most for the program since 2015.
“The way they play defense and their press,” Carr said, “we were able to attack it and get a lot of open shots.”
In the first half, Kalscheur started the Gophers on a 7-0 run with the first of many threes. The Chippewas tied it 9-9 and trailed by three, 23-20, midway through the first half, but they weren’t able to disrupt Minnesota’s shooters.
Willis’ back-to-back threes in the first half capped a 15-0 run to make it 38-20 at the 4:28 mark, but the rally started on the defensive end. Willis’ steal led to a wide-open dunk, and Daniel Oturu’s block was followed by a three from Tre’ Williams.
Taking away Oturu offensively was Central Michigan’s plan — the 6-10 sophomore was averaging 19 points. He was held to nine points and had five turnovers but also had 12 rebounds and three blocks.
The Gophers opened the second half with a 10-0 run, starting with another Kalscheur three. Freshman Isaiah Ihnen became the sixth U player to hit from beyond the arc in the game when Minnesota responded to the Chippewas’ 12-0 run by sinking four threes in a four-minute span.
Through four games this season, Minnesota ranked second in the Big Ten with 9.8 threes per game. Last season, Pitino had the 344th-worst team in college hoops in threes per game at 5.3.
Outside shooting wasn’t as efficient when the Gophers played Oklahoma, Butler and Utah away from home. In those three losses, they shot 29.5% on threes [26-for-88].
“It’s always going to be harder on the road against high-major opponents,” Pitino said. “That had a lot to do with it.”