One sequence in Sunday’s 92-64 win against Western Carolina is all it took for the Gophers to show the type of unselfishness that makes them an even better offensive team than last season.
Amir Coffey stole the ball at the opposing foul line and quickly tossed a pass up the court to Dupree McBrayer, who appeared to have an open lane to the basket.
A Western Carolina guard hustled back to contest McBrayer’s shot, but he sensed the defender and threw a behind the back pass to Coffey for the two-hand dunk. A year ago, that play probably doesn’t happen.
But there’s a reason the 4-0 Gophers average 94.3 points this season.
McBrayer started off slow this season with a couple games under double figures, but he wasn’t overly concerned with trying to get himself back on track.
“I’m not too worried about it,” said McBrayer, who missed a few months of practice with a leg injury this offseason. “I’m coming back from injury. I’m not too worried about that though. I’m worried about winning.”
In the last two games, McBrayer’s teammates tried to get him going offensively. It worked as he averaged 13.5 points in wins against Niagara and Western Carolina. The 6-foot-5 junior guard also got his teammates involved with seven assists and just one turnover in that span.
The Gophers set a school record with 32 assists and just four turnovers Wednesday against Niagara. They had 19 assists against Western Carolina on Sunday. Sharing the ball is a key to Minnesota’s success on offense.
Coffey the leader
Gophers coach Richard Pitino was asked Sunday how he thought Coffey was different this season.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore guard’s numbers are pretty close to last season so far. He’s averaging 13.7 points, four rebounds and three assists. As a freshman, he had 12.2 points, four rebounds and three assists. His three-point shooting seems to have improved the most from 33.7 to 53.8 percent.
Pitino saw a bigger change from Coffey’s All-Big Ten freshman year to these first four games.
“I do think he’s playing good basketball,” he said. “Today, I think he took a step forward in a leadership role. We were kind of stagnant. And I think Nate (Mason), Amir and (Jordan Murphy) really set the tone for those guys. I think Amir is just playing good solid basketball – being aggressive, being assertive and playing good defense.”
Murphy's free throw shooting
How can a scorer keep producing even if he's not getting good shots? Jordan Murphy realized the best way Sunday was to draw contact and get to the foul line.
Murphy set a career high with 15-for-19 free throw shooting against Western Carolina. He focused on becoming a better foul shooter this offseason. So far his numbers are up from last season. The junior forward's free thow percentage has gone from 61 to 72 percent in four games this season.
"My first two years here I wasn't a great free throw shooter," Murphy said. "I've made a big emphasis on my free throw shooting and my shooting overall."
Three-point shooting defense
The Gophers allowed their third straight home opponent to reach double figures in three-pointers with Western Carolina going 11-for-22 from beyond the arc. The Catamounts cooled off in the second half after shooting 7-for-10 on threes by halftime.