When Reggie Lynch sat on the bench for the Gophers’ Nov. 25 win against Southern Illinois, it was clear in the first few minutes of the game how much they missed him.
The Salukis were able to score at the basket without Lynch’s shot-blocking presence – and Minnesota found itself trailing midway through the first half.
Lynch’s defensive ability changes the game. But the 6-foot-10 junior showed he’s capable of being a go-to scoring option with 18 points and 11 rebounds in a 77-57 win Sunday against Northern Illinois.
Lynch, who had 11 points, seven rebounds and two of his three blocks in the second half, is averaging 9.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and a Big-Ten high 3.7 blocks in 22 minutes this season. He has five double-figure scoring games this season, including two straight.
We know how valuable he is on the back end of the defense. But how reliable will Lynch’s offensive ability be moving forward, especially in Big Ten play?
“To me, it felt great to have a good offensive performance,” Lynch said Sunday. “I played pretty good, but everyone around me did very well. We executed in the second half, so it was a good feeling for me.”
Lynch and Murphy had their highest scoring game together so far this season with 30 points, to go with 21 rebounds. They also shot 10-for-12 from the foul line combined in the win.
Murphy's 12 points and 10 rebounds gave Minnesota two double-doubles in the same game for the first time since Joey King and Murphy (19 points and 17 rebounds off the bench) in a loss to South Dakota last December.
Two frontcourt starters hadn’t recorded a double-double in the same game before Sunday since Ralph Sampson III and Trevor Mbakwe did it against Wofford on Nov. 12, 2010. Six years is a long time to wait for a frontcourt tandem that is capable of scoring and rebounding at a high level.
Murphy and Lynch are just scratching the surface of their potential together. Add in freshman Eric Curry and junior Bakary Konate and this is one of Minnesota’s deepest frontcourts in years.
“They take the pressure off me,” Murphy said of Lynch and Curry. “I don’t have to carry a lot of the (scoring) load like I used to.”
FREE THROW SUCCESS: The Gophers ranked 11th in the Big Ten in free throw shooting at 67.8 percent. But they made it count at the foul line against Northern Illinois, going 25 for 30 (83.3 percent). Lynch and Nate Mason were 15 for 18 combined. That can be expected from Mason. But Lynch was just 52.6 percent from the foul line. He was just 4-for-13 in the last four games. But Lynch shot 8-for-10 on Sunday.
PASSING FANCY: In the last two games, Mason has 15 assists and just two turnovers. Pitino has challenged his junior captain to be one of the top point guards in the Big Ten. And he’s rising to that level at the right time before conference play. Mason ranks third in the Big Ten in assists per game (5.3) and assist/turnover ratio (2.6).
TURNOVER ISSUES: Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey and Akeem Springs combined for 10 of the team’s 14 turnovers, including five from Coffey and Springs in the second half. Springs and Coffey tried to make up for those mistakes by setting career-highs with four and three steals, respectively. Pitino’s guards, though, need to take better care of the ball when conference play arrives in a few weeks.