Michael Hurt isn’t known for his dunking.
But there was the 6-foot-7 Gophers sophomore forward, driving hard to the basket in the first half Thursday night against Oral Roberts, gathering himself for a big throw-down. The ball rimmed out after he was fouled, but Hurt made sure the second chance he got counted.
In the second half, Hurt ran the floor and finished a pinpoint pass from Isaiah Washington with a one-handed slam over a defender.
“It felt pretty good,” the Rochester John Marshall product said. “I thought I was going to get the first one. Isaiah made a great pass and I just went up with it.”
Hurt replaced injured junior Dupree McBrayer and scored a career-high 10 points in 26 minutes while starting for the first time in his career in Thursday’s 77-63 victory.
McBrayer, who was out because of a lower left leg injury, could play for the Gophers (10-3) on Saturday vs. Florida Atlantic. Whether he returns or not, Hurt displayed what he could do with a bigger role.
“He really plays smart basketball,” coach Richard Pitino said. “He’s minimizing mistakes. … He’s shooting the ball when he’s open. I didn’t think I’d see him dunk this early. That was nice to see. Those were really good minutes for him. He took advantage of an opportunity, certainly.”
Hurt, who was averaging 2.0 points and 1.6 rebounds in 12 minutes per game this season, found out he would be starting a couple of days before playing Oral Roberts. He was able to build enough chemistry with the starters in practice to have it carry over smoothly in the game.
Jordan Murphy, who led the Gophers with 17 points and 10 rebounds Thursday, was proud of the way Hurt played in his first start. Hurt defended. He got others involved. Ball movement was as good as it had been in weeks. The only thing Murphy wanted to see was Hurt shoot even more when open.
“I was on him about that,” Murphy said. “But for the most part he did good looking for [his shots].”
Hurt didn’t pass up too many shots when he starred at John Marshall, finishing behind Hopkins’ Amir Coffey for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball Award in 2016.
Hurt’s younger brother, Matthew, is now leading JM and averaging about 40 points a game as a 6-9 junior. The younger Hurt, who recently picked up a scholarship offer from Kentucky, had a feeling his brother was going to be ready to make an impact this season for the Gophers.
“Since last year, I’ve seen him improve a lot,” Matthew Hurt said. “I’m excited for him this season to see what he can do and for his career. He’s a lot stronger and a lot harder to guard.”
The Hurts spent time this summer training at the Memphis Grizzlies’ facility with longtime NBA player Mike Miller. Michael also went to Spain in August to play with a traveling team coached by Hall of Famer Larry Brown.
After gaining 20 pounds since his freshman season and playing a key role off the bench earlier this year, Hurt was more comfortable for moments like Thursday when he had to replace an injured starter.
“The offseason was great for me, because last year I wasn’t physically ready,” he said. “It was good for me. It was a good experience. Now I feel like I’m more prepared physically and basketballwise.”