There was every reason for Saturday to be a letdown game for the Gophers men’s basketball team coming off two big wins and having a week off during Christmas break.
For the game’s first 10 minutes against Florida International, coach Richard Pitino didn’t see the same effort on the floor that helped the Gophers beat Ohio State and Oklahoma State. But sophomores Gabe Kalscheur and Daniel Oturu gave them the spark they needed to pull away in an 89-62 victory over Florida International on Saturday afternoon in front of an announced crowd of 10,546 at Williams Arena.
Oturu reached a milestone with 21 points and 20 rebounds for the Gophers (7-5), who picked up their third straight victory in their final nonconference game. The 6-10 Oturu became the first Big Ten player with a 20-20 game since Michigan’s Deshawn Sims in 2008 and the first Gopher to do it since Tom Kondla in 1966.
“Daniel was terrific,” Pitino said. “We don’t know officially when the last time somebody has had a 20-20 performance here, but we know it’s since the 1960s.
“He’s one of the better players in the Big Ten. He changes a lot of things offensively and defensively.”
Kalscheur, who scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the first half, picked up where he left off after a career-best 34 points in last week’s 86-66 victory over the Cowboys in Tulsa.
“We played a little slow out of the gates, but we picked it up,” Kalscheur said. “Our defense ramped up and intensified, so it helped a lot with our confidence on the offensive end.”
Minnesota’s turnaround from a rough start to the season comes just in time with the remaining 18 Big Ten games starting into the new year Thursday at Purdue.
A couple of weeks ago, Pitino told his team it had to show how much a challenging early nonconference slate could help them get some quality wins. All five losses were to high-major opponents, including a 20-point loss at Iowa on Dec. 9.
“The loss to Iowa was an eye-opener,” Oturu said. “You always think about a loss like that about what went wrong. But at the end of the day, your effort level has to be at an all-time high every time you’re on the court.”
Beginning with the biggest win in the Pitino era against then-No. 3 Ohio State on Dec. 15 at home, Minnesota has only been getting better. In the past three wins, the Gophers are averaging 86.3 points and holding foes to 38.7% shooting.
After a slow start Saturday, the Gophers outrebounded the Panthers 52-36 and held them to 36.4% shooting. They also shot 29-for-30 on free throws.
Kalscheur’s resurgence has been a big factor. The 6-4 guard is averaging 24 points and shooting 13-for-26 from beyond the arc in the three games since his scoreless outing at Iowa. On Saturday, FIU (9-4) led 16-11 at the midway point of the first half after a putback from Osasumwen Osaghae, who finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks. The Panthers were outhustling the Gophers and disrupting them with their full-court press.
Kalscheur started 1-for-6 from the field but wound up scoring 15 of his team’s 17 points in one stretch. The Gophers used a 14-0 run to take control and led 36-21 after Oturu’s putback basket.
In the second half, a layup by Osaghae cut Minnesota’s advantage to 38-29, but Kalscheur and Oturu answered to extend it to a 14-point margin.