When sophomore reserve Jarvis Omersa left the raised floor in the first half Sunday night, the Williams Arena crowd rewarded his game-changing effort with resounding applause.
For a homegrown player like Omersa, moments like that are what he imagined in a bigger role with the Gophers men’s basketball team. It just took a bit longer to get there.
The Gophers were searching for more frontcourt depth this season, and they got a glimpse of that with Omersa’s career night in a 79-56 victory over North Dakota in front of an announced 8,854.
Sophomore Gabe Kalscheur led five players in double figures with 18 points, including 13 in the first half.
But Omersa’s 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals off the bench helped the Gophers (3-3) eventually pull away from the Fighting Hawks (1-4) despite leading scorer and rebounder Daniel Oturu’s foul trouble.
“With Jarvis, it’s never a doubt about playing hard,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “He really plays hard. He’s got a high, high motor. He plays with great energy. It’s now about production and filling up the stat sheet.”
Oturu, who was averaging 17 points and nearly 12 rebounds, sat with two fouls with his team leading just 6-5 at the 15:40 mark. Despite being a few inches shorter than Oturu at 6-foot-7, Omersa made a difference with his energy and used his athleticism to make plays.
The former Orono standout scored five straight points during a 15-1 run that helped the Gophers take control after a slow start. The highlight of the game was an alley-oop pass in the first half from Michael Hurt to Omersa, who finished high above the rim with a two-handed slam.
“His effort day in and day out is just great,” Kalscheur said. “He’s always the hype man you see on the bench, but he also plays with a bunch of effort during practice. He just competes.”
The Gophers have relied heavily on outside shooting this season, leading the Big Ten with 10.6 three-pointers per game through five games. But they didn’t attempt their first three until nearly midway through the first half Sunday.
Instead, Pitino’s squad emphasized attacking the basket and playing inside-out basketball. In the first half, even with Oturu limited to five minutes, Minnesota dominated in the paint (24-8) and in second-chance points (10-0).
Typically known for his jumper, Kalscheur scored mostly driving to the rim. That allowed him to get his first career dunk and his first free throw of the season.
In the second half, North Dakota got within 41-30 after five straight points from De’Sean Allen-Eikens, but the Gophers continued to take over inside. Oturu’s three-point play made it 58-36 with about 10 minutes to play.
The 6-10 former Cretin-Derham Hall star had 11 of his 15 points after halftime. Omersa, Oturu and starting forward Alihan Demir combined to score 37 points. The Gophers outscored North Dakota 42-24 in the paint.
“Taking a little pressure off him is going to give him better looks,” Demir said. “They can’t double him as much.”
The Gophers, who host DePaul on Friday, have won two straight home games after losing three in a row away from the Barn.
Pitino learned a lot about his team and Omersa after the 73-69 loss at Utah on Nov. 15.
Omera’s first career start that night didn’t end up how he envisioned when the Gophers fell behind 16-0 in Salt Lake City. That ended up being the best thing to happen, because it motivated him to have a game like Sunday’s.
“Suffer now to succeed later,” Omersa said previously about that Utah game. “You play those games to learn and experience things, so that later down the road you’re ready for it.”