It was fitting that Royce White was sitting in the crowd watching Gophers freshman Amir Coffey's spectacular 30-point game in Friday's 92-86 win against St. John's.
The last time the U had a Minnesota recruit as highly rated as Coffey was when White, also a former Hopkins star, joined the program in 2009-10.
We'll never know what White could've done in a Gophers uniform since he transferred to Iowa State before playing in a game. But Coffey gave fans a glimpse into his immense potential Friday -- and it's bigger maybe even than he realizes right now.
"Just trying to find myself,” he said after scoring 30 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field and 10-for-12 shooting from the foul line in 36 minutes. “It’s a new system, new offense, new teammates. So just getting comfortable playing with these guys, trying to find myself.”
When asked how he thought his first four college games have gone, Coffey answered with a shy smile: “Pretty good.”
The 6-foot-8, 195-pound guard is now leading the team with 15.8 points per game. Sophomore Dupree McBrayer (14.8) and Junior Nate Mason (13.5) were the top scorers for the Gophers until Friday.
The last freshman to lead the team in scoring for a season was current NBA forward Kris Humphries, who averaged a Big Ten-high 21.7 in 2003-04. Humphries was also the last U freshman to have a 30-point game, doing it twice with a freshman-record 36 points against Indiana and 32 points against Virginia.
Some of the best freshmen in program history never scored 30 points in a game, including Mychal Thompson, Kevin McHale, Voshon Lenard and Rick Rickert. The last 30-point game at Williams Arena came from then-senior Andre Hollins, with 31 points against Rutgers in 2014-15.
“Points aren’t everything,” Coffey said. “You can impact the game in different ways, whether that’s defense, stops, rebounds, assists. I think I’ve been playing all right.”
Coffey also had four rebounds and two steals Friday. Gophers coach Richard Pitino has raved about Coffey's defense and passing since the summer, but his scoring is what turned the game around after the Gophers trailed 22-9 midway through the first half. He had 17 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field and 6-for-6 free throws at halftime.
The offensive explosion was critical in the first half when Wednesday’s leading scorer Jordan Murphy (18 points vs. Mount St. Mary’s) was scoreless with two fouls in two minutes. Murphy bounced back with 12 second-half points. He was an All-Big Ten freshman last season.
Coffey could earn that same honor if he keeps it up. And it seems to mean even more since he's from Minnesota.
After the game, he followed a TV interview by circling the court to slap hands and greet fans waiting to congratulate him for a memorable performance.
“It is pretty cool,” Coffey said. “That’s probably why I stayed home. I was known around here and the fans are loving.”
-- Reggie Lynch's nine blocks were tied for the third most in school history, tying Colton Iverson (2008), Joel Przybilla (1999) and Randy Breuer (1983). Przybilla had 10 blocks in a game in 1998. The school record is 12 by Mychal Thompson in 1976. Lynch's career-high previously was seven blocks playing for Illinois State in 2014.
-- The Gophers held St. John’s to 37 percent shooting Friday. But their offense is balanced as it has been under Pitino. They've now scored 80 points or more for the fourth straight game, the most since 1992-93.