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Amir Coffey shows off his talent with clutch plays to beat Vanderbilt

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Amir Coffey didn’t have a great game if you just looked at the box score without watching the end of the Gophers basketball team’s 56-52 win against Vanderbilt.

Anyone who watched the last five minutes would agree that Coffey is the reason why Minnesota didn’t suffer its second straight loss.

Coffey, a 6-foot-8 freshman and the team’s leading scorer, had no field goals until his team was down six points under the five-minute mark. He then scored six of his nine points down the stretch for the Gophers, who won for the first time in two seasons after trailing with five minutes left.

The Commodores took a 52-50 lead, but Coffey answered with a jumper and running layup for the go-ahead score with 58 seconds remaining in the game.

“He’s a talented kid,” sophomore Jordan Murphy said. “He can pass, he can score. Those two important buckets didn’t surprise me. I knew as soon as it was going up it was going in. I had complete confidence in him.”

In the last two games, the former Hopkins standout was held under double figures for the first two times this season. He has 16 points combined on 6-for-17 shooting, but Coffey didn’t let those shooting struggles hurt his confidence when the Gophers needed him most.

“Amir Coffey made two big-time shots,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “We kept talking about catching the ball in the middle of the zone and make a play, and he finally did it. Then he got on the break and had the runner. He’s a talented player and did a lot of great things.”

BACKCOURT ASSIST: It wasn’t a great shooting night for the Gophers’ starting backcourt. Coffey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer were all held under double figures in the same game for the first time this season. They combined to shoot just 7-for-24 from the field Saturday, but they contributed in different ways.

Besides Coffey’s late-game scoring, Mason and McBrayer combined for 11 of the team’s 15 assists with just two turnovers. McBrayer’s alley-oop to Coffey for a dunk was the highlight of the game and turning point in the second half after Vanderbilt pulled ahead.

BLOCK PARTY: Lynch had four of his six blocks in the first half. But the 6-10 Edina native’s two blocks in the last minute were the biggest defensive plays of the game. Vanderbilt’s 7-1 center Luke Kornet tried to break a 52-52 tie when Lynch sent his layup attempt right back. 

The Big Ten's shot blocking leader is now averaging 3.57 blocks per game, which ranks fifth nationally.

MURPHY'S BACK: Murphy broke out of a two-game slump. He had two more points Saturday than he scored in the two previous games combined, finishing with 16 points on 8-for-17 shooting. Murphy had 13 points and 10 of his 14 rebounds in the second half. It was his third double-double this season.

Murphy, Lynch, Eric Curry and Bakary Konate helped the Gophers outscore Vanderbilt 34-8 in points in the paint.

Gophers look to be the bully inside against Vanderbilt in Sioux Falls

Gophers vs. Vanderbilt in Sioux Falls

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

FRONTCOURT TOUGHNESS – The Gophers were physically dominated in their first loss of the season Monday at Florida State. It wasn’t just that center Reggie Lynch, the team's biggest player, was outweighed by 40 pounds in the paint. Minnesota lacked toughness across the board in the frontcourt, including Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry. That can’t happen Saturday night against a Vanderbilt team more comfortable playing a finesse game. Lynch (260 pounds), Murphy (240) and Curry (235) aren’t used to being pushed around like they were Monday. Time for them to do some bullying of their own.

DEFENDING THE ARC – The Commodores enter Saturday’s game with 25 three-pointers made in their last two games, which helped them bounce back from a 10-point loss to Butler on Nov. 24. They are shooting 41 percent from three-point range with 66 three-point field goals this year, both leading the Southeastern Conference. Minnesota ranks second in the Big Ten in three-point shooting defense with opponents being held to 28.2 percent. St. John’s (11) and Texas-Arlington (10) are the only two opponents to make double-digit three-pointers against Minnesota this season.

MURPHY’S MOTOR – Can Jordan Murphy get back on track? The sophomore captain has scored just 14 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field in his last two games, including being held without a field goal on Monday for the first time since his third college game last year. Murphy is an undersized power forward at 6-foot-7. But he has enough athleticism, strength and length to be a dominant rebounder and finisher. Murphy has tried to play more away from the basket this season. But he can prove to be one of the top forwards in the Big Ten again, if he sticks to what he does best.

GAME INFO

Time: 7 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Sanford Pentagon. Line: Gophers by 3 points Series: Leads 4-0; Minnesota won last meeting, 72-59, in 1959 at Memorial Gym in Nashville. TV: None. Online/Live video: ESPN3. Radio: 1500-AM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (6-1)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 12.7

G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 So. 11.4

G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 14.6

F-Jordan Murphy 6-7 So. 10.1

C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.8

Key reserves – Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 7.7 ppg; Akeem Springs, G, 6-4, Sr., 7.3 ppg; Ahmad Gilbert, F, 6-6, So., 3.0 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 2.6 ppg

Coach: Richard Pitino 58-51 (4 seasons)  

Notable: The Gophers are playing at the Sanford Pentagon for the second straight season. They lost to Oklahoma State 62-60 last year. It was the end of a three-game losing streak that had South Dakota connections. Minnesota lost to South Dakota and South Dakota State at home before falling to the Cowboys in Sioux Falls, S.D. last year. A good sign this season: Pitino didn’t schedule any games against the Coyotes or the Jackrabbits.

Vanderbilt (4-3)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Riley LaChance 6-2 Jr. 10.3

G-Payton Willis 6-4 Fr. 6.9

F-Matthew Fisher-Davis 6-5 Jr. 15.3

F-Jeff Roberson 6-6 Jr. 10.6

C-Luke Kornet 7-1 Sr. 14.6

Key reserves – Nolan Cressler, G, 6-4, Sr., 5.6 ppg; Joe Toye, G/F, 6-7, So., 4.4 ppg; Djery Baptiste, C, 6-10, R-Fr., 4.0 ppg; Clevon Brown, F, 6-8, Fr., 2.4 ppg

Coach: Bryce Drew 128-52 (six seasons)  

Notable: Junior guard Riley LaChance, a Brookfield, Wis. native, is shooting 18-for-26 from beyond the arc this season (69.2 percent), which leads the SEC. LaChance received a scholarship offer from Pitino at Brookfield Central High School. He scheduled an official visit to Minnesota’s campus in 2013. The former four-star recruit also made visits to Iowa and Michigan State.

Fuller’s prediction (7-0 record)Gophers 76, Vanderbilt 72. The Gophers suffered their first loss of the season, but it could’ve been a lot worse. They faced a 19-point deficit in the second half in Tallahassee before cutting it to a single-digit margin late in the game. That should help Minnesota’s players bring some confidence into Saturday’s matchup against another major conference foe. Freshman Amir Coffey will learn how to stay out of foul trouble after it took him out of his last game. Murphy breaks out of a brief slump to get the Gophers back on the winning track. 

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • NJIT at Gophers men's basketball

    7 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • San Antonio at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, NBATV, 830-AM

  • Gophers women's basketball at New Mexico

    8 pm on 88.5-FM

  • Wild at Toronto

    6:30 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Toronto

    6 pm on TNT, 830-AM

  • Army at Gophers women's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers men's hockey at Michigan State

    5:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Boston U.

    6 pm

  • Edmonton at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Detroit at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN PLUS, 830-AM

  • Georgia Southern at Gophers men's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Boston U.

    2 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Michigan State

    7 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Vikings at Jacksonville

    12 pm on Ch. 9, 100.3/1130

  • Gophers women's basketball at South Carolina

    2 pm on SECN, 88.5-FM

  • Northern Illinois at Gophers men's basketball

    4 pm on 1500-AM

  • St. Louis at Wild

    5 pm on FSN PLUS, 100.3-FM

  • Golden State at Timberwolves

    6 pm on FSN, 830-AM

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Today's Scoreboard

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    14

    0

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    Philadelphia

     

    - 4th, 2:42

    93

    87

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    Atlanta

     

    - End 3rd

    83

    69

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    Brooklyn

     

    - 4th, 11:01

    88

    84

  • Cleveland

    Toronto

     

    - 3rd, 2:28

    85

    76

  • San Antonio

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    35

    48

  • Portland

    Chicago

     

    - H

    65

    57

  • Boston

    Houston

     

    - H

    48

    58

  • Memphis

    New Orleans

     

    - H

    44

    46

  • Charlotte

    Dallas

     

    - 2nd, 5:52

    36

    34

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    9:30 PM

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    2

    2

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    1

    3

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    4

    6

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    2

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