Gophers are making a strong case to be one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten.
Granted their schedule hasn’t been as tough as others in the conference, but they’ve shut down nearly every opponent so far, including Georgia Southern in an 86-49 win Friday night at the Barn.
“I thought the offense at the beginning of the game provided the spark,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “I thought we got a little cold in the second half there, but we were getting stops, which is the most important part. I keep telling the guys, defend, rebound and run. That’s always been kind of my mentality with these guys.”
The Eagles’ backcourt of Ike Smith (Sun Belt’s leading scorer at 21.4 points per game), Tookie Brown and Mike Hughes entered the game averaging a combined 47.5 points this season. But they had just 17 points on 7 for 30 shooting from the field Friday. In fact, Brown and Hughes, two preseason All-Sun Belt guards, had just five points and two field goals between them.
This isn’t the first time the Gophers shut down some of the top midmajor guards in the country. Texas-Arlington’s Erick Neal had just 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting. Mount St. Mary’s Junior Robinson had 16 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Southern Illinois’ Mike Rodriguez had nine points on 2-for-6 shooting. NJIT’s Damon Lynn, who was the active career Division I scoring leader, had just 12 points on 5-for-24 shooting in Tuesday’s 74-68 loss to Minnesota.
It wasn’t just the fact that the Gophers kept Georgia Southern’s guards from shooting well, either. Smith, Brown and Hughes combined for 10 of the team’s 15 turnovers.
Even if the guards get beat, Reggie Lynch is there to protect the rim. He had four of the team’s nine blocks. Lynch, the Big Ten leader in blocks (3.8 per game) has 15 blocks in his last three games.
Entering the Georgia Southern game, the Gophers led the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense (35.8) and blocks (6.9), while ranking second in three-point percentage defense (28.1). Those numbers were even better Friday night.
BACKCOURT DOMINATES: On the other side, Minnesota’s backcourt players completely dominated their matchup Friday. Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer and Akeem Springs combined for 48 points with eight of the team’s 12 three-pointers. Mason, McBrayer and Amir Coffey combined for 21 assists with just three turnovers. Mason and McBrayer also had eight of the team’s 10 steals.
FAN FAVORITES: Freshman Michael Hurt made his first three-pointer of the season Friday. The former Rochester John Marshall standout scored a season-best seven points in six minutes. Junior center Gaston Diedhiou only played four minutes combined in two games this season, but he picked up two rebounds in three minutes against Georgia Southern. All 13 players who suited up played in the game.