Gophers coach Richard Pitino had separate meetings with sophomores Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer at different points this season to figure out how to get them out of slumps.
For Murphy, it was about focusing on rebounding to make scoring much easier. McBrayer just needed to hear that his coach still had confidence in him and needed a spark now that he went from starter to reserve.
Murphy had his fourth straight double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds. McBrayer broke out of a six-game stretch scoring under double figures with 15 points in Sunday's 83-78 overtime victory against Michigan.
McBrayer was just 3-for-9 from the field, but he led the team with 7-for-8 shooting from the foul line. The rest of the team shot 21-for-33.
“I think we were a little bit nervous to start out,” McBrayer said of his teammates. “But that’s going to happen. We stuck with it and we hit them when we needed.”
The Gophers were on a five-game losing streak a few weeks ago and it could’ve reminded Murphy and McBrayer of last season when they lost 14 in a row during an 8-23 season. But the returning players never allowed themselves to dwell on memories of what happened a year ago.
“We’re a really resilient group,” Murphy said, “a really confident group as well. We know we’ve been here before, made mistakes and we’ve had success. We know to learn from our mistakes and keep doing what makes us successful.”
Murphy is averaging 18 points, 15 rebounds and shooting 61.7 percent (29-for-47) in his last four games. He’s a completely different player, a much more aggressive and high-energy player than the one going through a stretch of six games under double figures in January.
“I just had to keep the same mindset I’ve been having,” Murphy said. “Just out there rebounding and being aggressive on the boards. Just trying to win every rebounding battle. My teammates are definitely finding me when I’m open. So it really helped my confidence. I hope I can keep it going.”
McBrayer joked that he expected Murphy to come down with “every one of my misses.” And it worked out exactly that way in overtime when Murphy slammed a McBrayer miss to give the Gophers an early lead.
“The little things win in this league,” McBrayer said. “Rebounding wins in this league.”
McBrayer started the first 19 games of the season, but he was replaced by senior Akeem Springs for the first time in a Jan. 21 overtime loss to Wisconsin at home. He scored 14 points against the Badgers off the bench, but McBrayer had been held under double figures in every game since until Sunday.
During that six-game stretch, the 6-foot-5 New York native was averaging just five points on 11-for-36 shooting from the field (33 percent).
“I thought I wanted to be more aggressive, try to get to the basket and get to the free-throw line,” he said. “I got confident and I kind of got going.”
COFFEY COOLED: Freshman Amir Coffey saw his team-leading streak of seven straight double-figure scoring games come to an end Sunday, just barely. He scored nine points on 1-for-4 shooting from the field and 6-for-6 shooting from the foul line. Coffey had just one field goal on a three-pointer, but his four free throws in overtime were crucial to seal the team’s fifth straight victory.
Coffey was clearly limping after a collision in the second half, but Pitino decided to keep him in the lineup at the end of regulation and overtime. He played 38 minutes.
“I was worried,” Pitino said. “He kind of got hit (in the leg). I called that timeout because he was really limping, and I said, ‘Do you want to come out?’ He’s a tough kid. He’s a quiet kid, so you wouldn’t know. He’s not this emotional guy. But he’s really, really tough.”
BACKUP HELP: For only the second time this season, Gophers center Reggie Lynch finished blockless in a game Sunday. The Big Ten blocks leader still had 11 points, eight rebounds and shot 4-for-4 from the field in just 13 minutes.
Lynch picked up his fourth foul with 9:46 left in the second half and didn’t return for the rest of the game. Freshman Eric Curry replaced Lynch, finishing with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting and five rebounds in 35 minutes.
Pitino had a feeling Lynch might get foul No. 5 after fouling out eight times this season.
“I just avoided the inevitable,” Pitino said. “He was going to foul out, so I said, ‘Let’s just stick with Eric.’”