TULSA, OKLA. – The first half of Saturday’s game was a flashback to last season’s scorching NCAA tournament first-round performance for Gophers guard Gabe Kalscheur.
Kalscheur, whose parents and former high school coach were in attendance, lit up the scoreboard with 24 of his 34 points in the first half, including five of his seven three-pointers, in an 86-66 victory over Oklahoma State in front of an announced 4,979 at BOK Center.
“I was just locked in,” Kalscheur said. “The preparation we had against their scout was on target. We just had to play fast and up-tempo and that’s what we did.”
It was a much-needed effort by the former DeLaSalle standout since his team was without starting guard Payton Willis, who missed his first game of the season (ankle).
Freshman Tre’ Williams started in place of Willis, but senior Michael Hurt also had seven points in a season-high 27 minutes off the bench.
“It was really important,” Hurt said. “That was what Coach relayed to the team. Every game, it might be someone different stepping up.”
The Gophers (6-5) kept their momentum going after a victory last weekend over then-No. 3 Ohio State at Williams Arena, but more importantly notched their first victory away from home this season. They were 0-4 before Saturday, including losses in true road games at Butler, Utah and Iowa.
“We have not played a lot of games at home,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “It’s Maybe if we didn’t play Butler, Oklahoma [neutral site] or Utah, we don’t play the way we do tonight. These guys are learning and growing.”
Saturday’s game was technically at a neutral site, some 60 miles east of Oklahoma State’s Stillwater campus, but the Cowboys (8-3) were playing in front of a mostly orange-clad crowd. That didn’t help them overcome Kalscheur’s first-half takeover from beyond the arc.
Fellow sophomore Marcus Carr drew most of the attention after his 35-point outing last weekend. Kalscheur took advantage with some wide-open looks on kickouts vs. a 2-3 zone and in transition in the first half.
His third three-pointer ignited a 22-5 run that helped Minnesota break away from a 24-24 tie in the first half. Kalscheur scored 16 points in the last seven minutes to help the Gophers lead 46-31 at halftime.
“He didn’t force anything,” Pitino said. “It just came throughout the flow the offense. We didn’t run anything for him. They don’t really let you run sets.”
In the second half, Pitino’s team showed more offensive balance. Alihan Demir had six consecutive points after Oklahoma State switched from zone to man-to-man defense to stick with Kalscheur.
Demir and center Daniel Oturu, who finished with 22 points and eight rebounds, had eight points in a row during one stretch to extend the lead to 29. The Cowboys, who were playing without leading scorer Isaac Likekele for the fourth consecutive game, never got closer than 14 from there.
The best game Kalscheur had during his standout freshman season was with 24 points in the victory vs. Louisville last season to help the Gophers advance to the second round. But Saturday was another special moment. The Edina native shot 11-for-14 from the field, including 7-for-9 from three-point range and 5-for-5 from the foul line. He also helped to shut down the Cowboys’ leading scorer, Lindy Waters, who didn’t score after 17 first-half points.
Kalscheur’s parents, Craig and LeAnna, sat next to former DeLaSalle coach Dave Thorson for part of Saturday’s victory. Thorson, now a Colorado State assistant, beat Tulsa in triple overtime in the first game, which included Kalscheur’s former AAU teammate David Roddy from Breck.
“Seeing my mom and dad there, it was nice,” Kalscheur said. “I saw [Thorson] after they walked out after their victory. He gave me a little ‘let’s go’ and all that. It was nice seeing those guys.”