Unofficially the Gophers picked up their first win of the season Saturday in an 83-81 victory against Creighton in Omaha.
In what’s called a “secret scrimmage” where no media or fans are allowed to watch, freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur scored 10 of his team-best 15 points in the first half. Kalscheur shot 5-for-10 from the field, 2-for-5 from three-point range and 3-for-3 on free throws. He also had two assists and two steals in 22 minutes. Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey also had 14 points apiece for the Gophers.
"I thought (freshmen) Gabe, Daniel (Oturu) and Jarvis (Omersa) were terrific," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said in a video after the game. "They've got to learn like everybody else. I think offensively they did a lot of good things. They play hard. They compete. Creighton runs a lot of good stuff, so it was difficult for them defensively. But I thought overall A-plus effort for all three of those guys."
The fact that Kalscheur can score isn’t a surprise since he averaged 23 points as a senior in high school last season. His all-around game is what Minnesota coaches have been most impressed with since the 6-foot-4, 200-pound DeLaSalle product is already one of the team’s best perimeter defenders – likely a reason he started against Creighton.
Joining Kalscheur in the starting lineup was junior Amir Coffey, seniors Dupree McBrayer and Jordan Murphy and redshirt sophomore Eric Curry. Curry, who sat out with torn knee ligaments and meniscus last season, played in his first game since the NCAA tournament loss to Middle Tennessee his freshman season in 2017. Curry finished with two points on 1-for-4 shooting, four rebounds and a steal in 20 minutes.
Since Isaiah Washington came off the bench, Coffey got the start at point guard and finished with a team-best four assists, to go with four rebounds and three turnovers in 25 minutes.
Pitino talked about trying to figure out the replacement for graduated senior floor general Nate Mason this fall. It’s a work in progress, but Washington still scored nine points and played 24 minutes off the bench.
Maybe the biggest takeaway from the scrimmage was how much this freshman class could contribute this season. Former four-star recruit Oturu finished with 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting, five rebounds and three blocks in just 15 minutes. The 6-foot-10 Oturu committed two fouls, but they both came in the second half. He got off to a strong start with six points, four rebounds, two blocks and zero fouls in the first half Saturday. Imagine what his impact can be with more minutes this season.
Fellow 2018 recruiting class member Omersa had three points and four rebounds in 13 minutes, but I heard he was impressive in the extra eight minutes both teams played.
While this scrimmage doesn’t count on the record, it’s a better indicator of what to expect to start the season than the Nov. 1 exhibition game against Minnesota Duluth. Offensively, the Gophers could be better than last season. Taking care of the ball (15 turnovers) and defending consistently (81 points allowed and 16-for-32 shooting in second half) are areas that still need to show improvement.
Coffey, McBrayer, Curry and Oturu all had to recover from injuries in the offseason, so it was a good sign to see them back and playing extended minutes Saturday.
"It was important to get them game reps," Pitino said. "It's going to take them time like anybody else. That's why you play these scrimmages. They're very, very valuable."
In other notes, Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate transfer Brock Stull had three points on a shot from beyond the arc, four rebounds and two turnovers in 14 minutes off the bench. Michael Hurt also had six points in 15 minutes, including the go-ahead free throw in the first half to give the Gophers a 35-34 lead. They held a 46-41 lead at the half.
The Gophers were 10th in three-point shooting in the Big Ten last season (34.6 percent), but they shot 9-for-22 (40.9 percent) against Creighton. Seven different players hit threes, including two each from Kalscheur and Washington. Murphy, mostly a low-post threat, also nailed a shot from long range.
"Offensively we're ahead of our defense," Pitino said. "I think we have a lot of good pieces and can play a variety of different ways. I think everybody in that locker room can help us. They just have to get on the same page"
How good is Creighton? The Blue Jays are expected to be a lower-half Big East team (ranked 8th by Street & Smith's and 9th by Athlon Sports). But they were ranked 33rd in analytics guru Ken Pomeroy’s preseason rankings, while Minnesota was 60th. Ty-Shon Alexander led them with 15 points, while Martin Krampelj and Davion Mintz had 11 points each. Sampson Froling also had 13 points off the bench.
Creighton released the score for the extra period coming out on top 19-9. First time I've seen that, but I can see why since the Blue Jays mentioned it.
"Minnesota's a good team," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "They've got length. they're very experienced in the guard-court with who they return. So I think it was a competitive game that was really good for us."
First time to see the Gophers for fans will be next Sunday, Oct. 28 at 3 p.m. in the maroon and gold scrimmage at Williams Arena.