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Gophers' Pitino wants Lynch to get ball more often

Gophers coach Richard Pitino doesn’t think he could’ve done much differently Saturday against Ethan Happ, who had 28 points in Wisconsin's 78-76 overtime win at the Barn.

But looking at how the Badgers played through their center makes Pitino want to get the ball more to Reggie Lynch, the Gophers' top inside scoring threat.

The 6-foot-10 junior is the team’s sixth leading scorer, though, with 8.1 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting (24-for-46) in Big Ten play this season.

“That’s definitely what we need to do something more of,” Pitino said Sunday on WCCO-AM radio. “We do need to continue to go to him because he’s a very efficient scorer. He just has to find a way not to get in foul trouble.”

Lynch, an Edina native, finished with eight points, seven rebounds and five blocks in 20 minutes before fouling out Saturday against Wisconsin. It was the fifth time he fouled out in seven Big Ten games.

Pitino said Lynch has to be stronger with the ball, but staying off the bench will help him get more opportunities moving forward. He averages 15.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.9 blocks, per 40 minutes. But Lynch plays 21 minutes per game this year.

“We’ll get him the ball if he’s on the court,” Pitino said. “Our offensive flow when he was out of the game just totally went away.”

Cretin-Derham Hall junior big man Daniel Oturu, who committed to the Gophers on Thursday, was in attendance for the Wisconsin game. Oturu has been following Lynch's play this season.

COFFEY TIME: If the Gophers (15-5, 3-4) are going to snap a three-game losing streak Wednesday at Ohio State, Pitino also needs freshman guard Amir Coffey to continue being aggressive looking for his shot.

Coffey led the team with 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting Saturday, including 3-for-4 from three-point range against Wisconsin.

“He’s got the ultimate green light with me,” Pitino said. “Because he’s been such a good passer for such a long time his scoring has been underrated. In order for us to win, we need him to attack the basket. We need him to score. We don’t need him to score 30, but we need 12, 13, 14 points per game from him.”

The former Hopkins star has been Minnesota’s most efficient scorer in Big Ten play. Coffey’s averaging 12.9 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and a team-best 43.5 percent shooting from three-point range.

 “He’s got to get out on the break,” Pitino said. “He’s got to get in ball screens that we put him in and go make some plays. He did that (Saturday). When he’s hitting threes he showed you how he can be pretty special.”

UNSUNG FRESHMAN: Another freshman who continues to grab Pitino’s attention is Eric Curry.

The 6-foot-9 Memphis native replaced starting power forward Jordan Murphy for most of the second half and the entire overtime Saturday against Wisconsin. Curry finished with just five points and five rebounds in 19 minutes, but he held his own defensively against Nigel Hayes.

Curry also hit a baseline jumper in overtime that gave the Gophers a 76-74 lead with 59 seconds left.

“He’s been playing pretty well,” Pitino said. “I liked his length on Nigel Hayes. He’s really talented. Amir gets a lot of the accolades, which he should. But in Eric we always thought we got a diamond in the rough. Sky is the limit with him. He’s skilled. He can shoot the ball. He’s got great length. He plays hard. He’s a great kid. When he’s playing like he did (Saturday), he’s going to force me to play him more.”

TOURNAMENT UPDATE: The Gophers were a No. 8 seed in Joe Lunardi's latest ESPN NCAA tournament projections. They were one of eight Big Ten teams in Lunardi's current bracket, including Wisconsin, Maryland, Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana and Northwestern and Michigan.

Minnesota's RPI was No. 17 and strength of schedule was No. 6 as of Monday afternoon. 

Postgame: Gophers finish another last-second missed shot away from victory

As much as fans should be proud of the way the Gophers battled Wisconsin in Saturday's 78-76 overtime loss, the fact is that Richard Pitino's team lost another close game because of poor execution on the final possession.

In overtime losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin at home and Penn State on the road, Pitino put the ball in the hands of his best playmakers, but they couldn't get a basket when it mattered most.

Is that Pitino's fault for drawing up the wrong play? Is it the players' fault for missing the shots? It's probably a bit of both, but something has to change if the Gophers are going to win close games this season.

Senior Akeem Springs, who finished with 16 points in his first Big Ten start, hit the three-pointer to send the game into overtime Saturday, but he was forced to throw up a desperation three at the end of overtime when the play broke down.

Junior leading scorer Nate Mason, who struggled with just eight points on 3-for-14 shooting against Wisconsin, missed last-second shots in losses to Penn State and Michigan State. Freshman Amir Coffey had a team-high 19 points Saturday, but he missed a shot at the end of regulation in the Big Ten opener.

So which player should get the ball for a last-second shot if another game comes down to the wire?

“I just think it’s a feel,” Pitino said. “Akeem obviously hit a big one at the end of regulation. He’s got that kind of quick release where he can get it up. You’re going to have to make tough shots at the end of games. Bronson (Koenig) did. We did not. Got to give them credit.”

Koenig’s three-pointer with 44 seconds left in overtime was the final go-ahead basket for Wisconsin. Ethan Happ made just one of two free throws to set up the last play for the Gophers to win or tie the game with 12 seconds remaining.

"I thought the only thing was Bakary (Konaté) was supposed to set a down (screen) for Akeem because Akeem was feeling it,” Pitino said. “Bakary kind of rushed up, he should have spaced it, but at the end of the day, (it’s about) players making plays.”

BIGS OUTPLAYED: Happ’s 28 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five blocks and Nigel Hayes’ 21 points were the reason Wisconsin kept it so close with the Gophers in regulation after falling behind.

Happ scored 20 of his points during an 11-minute stretch in the second half, especially with Reggie Lynch on the bench in foul trouble. Minnesota was outscored 44-24 in points in the paint.

Lynch, Eric Curry, Bakary Konate and Jordan Murphy combined to score just 19 points on 8-for-17 shooting. The Gophers have been dominated inside in almost every conference game this season.

In Big Ten play, Michigan State’s Nick Ward had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Big Ten opener at the Barn. Caleb Swanigan had 28 points and 22 rebounds in Purdue’s loss against Minnesota (Mason’s 31 points offset that). Penn State’s Mike Watkins had 15 points and 15 rebounds last week against the Gophers. And now Happ and Hayes went to work to help the Badgers escape Saturday.

Lynch had eight points, seven rebounds and five blocks in 20 minutes, which was efficient in foul trouble. But Murphy was non-existent and sat for most of the second half after posting just four points and one rebound in 26 minutes.

GREAT CROWD: The Gophers dropped the second Big Ten home game this season, but they had their first sellout Saturday since the Wisconsin game in 2015.

The Minnesota basketball team had 12 prospects in attendance and the football team had nearly 20 players taking in the Barn atmosphere on visits.

Pitino and his players appreciated the fan support for the biggest game so far this season.

"I didn't see many open seats," Coffey said. "That was great to see. I thank the fans for coming out and supporting us. Playing on the home court always gives you energy because the crowd is right there with you." 

LINEUP CHANGE: Sophomore Dupree McBrayer came off the bench for the first time this season and finished with 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting with four assists and one turnover in 21 minutes. Pitino said McBrayer handled losing the starter role well during practice during the week.

Springs, who had eight points in the first half Saturday, played a season-high 36 minutes in a starting role for the second time this season. 

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Local Schedule

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  • Brooklyn at Timberwolves

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  • Michigan State at Gophers women's basketball

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