Dupree McBrayer and Nate Mason both hit a pair of three-pointers in the first five minutes. Akeem Springs hit his first three shots from beyond the arc off the bench.
Even Jordan Murphy spotted up on the right wing and drilled his first three of the season.
It was that kind of Friday night for the Gophers men’s basketball team, using a hot start with eight of 12 three-pointers in the first half to cruise to an 86-49 victory over Georgia Southern at Williams Arena.
“That was one of the most unselfish games we’ve played in a long time,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said about his team’s season-high 23 assists on 32 field goals. “We shared the ball extremely well and got open looks because of it.”
With the spotlight on the NCAA volleyball next door between the Gophers and Missouri at the Sports Pavilion, the Barn atmosphere couldn’t compare — even with an announced 8,790 in attendance.
That didn’t matter on the court for the Gophers (9-1), who surpassed last season’s victory total and are off to their best start since 2011-12.
McBrayer and Springs led four players in double figures with 18 and 16 points, respectively. Mason finished with 14 points, nine assists, six rebounds and five steals.
“Coach just instilled to us in practice to move the ball,” Mason said. “I felt like everyone was on the attack from the get go. Once we got unselfish, it was really hard to stop us.”
Coming off a season-high 19 points in Tuesday’s 74-68 victory over New Jersey Institute of Technology, Springs scored 11 points in the first half. The 6-foot-4 senior made his first four shots, including three three-pointers for a 29-14 lead midway through the first half.
McBrayer, who scored 10 points in the first half, scored on a layup and free throw to make it an 18-point advantage with 9:21 remaining. The Gophers opened the game shooting 75 percent (12-for-16), but they went 5-for-19 going into halftime leading 45-32.
In the second half, Mason and Reggie Lynch scored a combined 11 points during a 13-2 run to blow the game wide open again. Lynch had three dunks in the first 4½ minutes, including two slams in a row to extend it to a 58-34 lead. Lynch finished with 10 points, six rebounds and four blocks.
Georgia Southern (4-5) had the Sun Belt’s leading scorer Ike Smith, who entered Friday averaging 21.4 points per game. Smith was held to only 12 points on 5-for-14 shooting.
Texas-Arlington, the preseason Sun Belt favorite, lost to the Gophers 84-67 Nov. 14. But the Mavericks are now on a seven-game winning streak that includes victories over Texas and at No. 12 St. Mary’s on Thursday.
Several Big Ten teams have already fallen victim to midmajor opponents this year. Indiana was ranked No. 3 when Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne stunned the Hoosiers. Ohio State lost to Florida Atlantic. Illinois lost to Winthrop. Penn State lost to Albany and George Mason. Iowa gave up 98 points to Nebraska-Omaha in defeat.
But the Gophers have avoided bad losses so far, their only defeat coming at Florida State 75-67 Nov. 28. That’s a big reason why they debuted in ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi’s NCAA tournament projections this week.
Still, after Tuesday’s close call against NJIT, Pitino told his players they couldn’t sleepwalk through any more games if they wanted to remain undefeated at home going into Big Ten play.
“He sat us down and told us we needed to improve, obviously,” Mason said. “We disrespected each other, not even him, but we didn’t play for each other as hard as we possibly could.”