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Postgame: Gophers sophomores Murphy and McBrayer lead in OT win

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.’”


Gophers have to learn to hold on to big leads

Michigan at Gophers


KEEPING BIG LEAD– The Gophers have made a bad habit out of blowing big leads in Big Ten games this season. It might seem like a great feeling for fans at the time when Minnesota is rolling and up double digits. But that high never lasts when the opponent comes storming back. It all started with the Gophers losing to Michigan State in overtime in the Big Ten opener after squandering a 15-point lead. They were up 13 at Purdue before needing to outlast the Boilermakers in overtime. They dropped a game at Penn State after leading by 14 points and to Maryland at home after leading by 12. It was almost dejavu all over again Wednesday against Indiana up nine in the second half in a 75-74 buzzer-beating victory at Williams Arena. Might have to start calling these guys the Cardiac Kids. Too many close games isn’t good for the beat writer’s heart.

DIRK JUNIOR– Meet Michigan’s 6-foot-11 sophomore center Moritz “Moe” Wagner. He is from Germany. And he has deep shooting range like his idol, Dirk Nowitzki. Wagner even got to meet Nowitzki for the first time when the Dallas Mavericks played at the Detroit Pistons this week. In his next game in an upset over Wisconsin, Wagner scored 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-6 from three-point range. Fellow frontcourt starter D.J. Wilson is just as prolific from three-point range at 6’10” and 240 pounds. Wilson is 38.5 percent from beyond the arc this year (25-for-65). Look for Minnesota’s Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy to be spending most of their time chasing Wagner and Wilson outside the paint Sunday.

BALANCED ATTACK– Richard Pitino praised Nate Mason for his second 30-point game of the season in Wednesday’s win against Indiana, but the Gophers coach also told his team that isn’t the formula for success. Mason was 8-for-19 from the field against the Hoosiers. He was forced to take far too many shots because of the lack of scoring from his teammates. Pitino needs the Gophers offense to be more balanced moving forward, which means Amir Coffey scoring in both halves, Lynch providing more points in the paint, Akeem Springs not starting the game 0-for-10 like he did Wednesday and Dupree McBrayer breaking out of a slump.


Time: 6 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers by 1 1/2. Series:  Minnesota leads 59-85; Michigan won last meeting 82-74 Feb. 10, 2016 in Minneapolis TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTN2go Radio: 1500ESPN.


MINNESOTA (19-7, 7-6)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 15.1

G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 12.4

G-Akeem Springs 6-4 Sr. 10.5

F-Jordan Murphy 6-6 So. 10.5

C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.2

Key reserves– Dupree McBrayer, G, 6-5, So., 10.3 ppg; Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 5.7 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 1.9 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Fr., 0.9 ppg; Ahmad Gilbert, F, 6-6, So., 1.8 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 88-72 (5th season)  

Notable: The Gophers haven’t beaten Michigan since a 69-64 victory Jan. 22, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Mich. That’s nine straight losses in the series. Pitino is 0-5 against the Wolverines, who are the only Big Ten team he hasn’t beaten. Michigan coach John Beilein has won 13 of the last 14 games against Minnesota. The last time the Gophers defeated Michigan at the Barn was in a 69-60 won on Feb. 21, 2008.

MICHIGAN (17-9, 7-6)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Derrick Walton Jr. 6-1 14.3

G-Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 6-4 Jr. 8.5

G-Zak Irvin 6-6 Sr. 12.6

F-D.J. Wilson 6-10 Jr. 10.2

C-Moritz Wagner 6-11 So. 12.2

Key reserves– Duncan Robinson, G/F, 6-8, Sr., 8.5 ppg; Xavier Simpson, G, 6-0, Fr., 1.5 ppg; Mark Donnal, C, 6-9, Sr., 4.6 ppg; Ibi Watson, F, 6-5, Fr., 1.2 ppg; Jon Teske, C, 7-0, Fr., 0.3 ppg.

Coach: John Beilein 499-307 (25th season)  

Notable: Some of the best point guard battles in the Big Ten have come between Derrick Walton Jr. and Nate Mason. It should be the same Wednesday night. Walton is averaging 18.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists in his last nine games, which includes six 20-point performances and five in a row. Mason is averaging 19.8 points and 4.0 assists in the last six games, while shooting 32-for-34 from the free-throw line.

Fuller’s prediction (23-3 picks record)Gophers 77, Michigan 74.  The Gophers have a chance to win five straight Big Ten regular-season games for the first time officially since the 1977-78 season (also vacated 1996-97 Final Four season). Hard to believe a couple weeks ago when they were just trying to win one game – period after five straight losses. That’s how quickly things can turn around in the Big Ten this season. Michigan and Minnesota are tied for sixth place in the conference at 7-6. But the Wolverines are on the NCAA tournament bubble, while the Gophers are comfortably in at the moment. Things can change quickly with a loss or two, so Pitino’s team has to put itself in Michigan’s shoes. If the Gophers play with a sense of urgency and defend the three-point line, they should pick up a very important win Wednesday night.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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  • Chicago at Wild

    7 pm on NBCSN, 100.3-FM

  • Minnesota United FC at Toronto FC (preseason)

    2 pm

  • Gophers men's basketball at Maryland

    7:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Purdue at Gophers women's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Tampa Bay at Twins (spring training)

    6:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Dallas at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, ESPN, 830-AM

  • Wisconsin at Gophers men's hockey

    7 pm on FSN PLUS, 1500-AM

  • Twins at Boston (spring training)

    12:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Penn State at Gophers men's basketball

    2 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Wisconsin at Gophers men's hockey

    7 pm on FSN PLUS, 1500-AM

  • Timberwolves at Houston

    8 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Gophers women's basketball at Maryland

    11 am on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Minnesota United FC vs. San Antonio

    11:30 am

  • Washington at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on 96.3-FM

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