A big difference from last season is that the Gophers can feel bad about how they played and miss one of their key players, but still come away with a victory.
That was the case in Friday’s 57-45 win against Southern Illinois.
One of the things that frustrated Richard Pitino the most about his team was the lack of flow and execution offensively. Minnesota had just 13 assists, four below the season average.
Playing without starting center Reggie Lynch took away arguably the Gophers' best low-post scoring threat. But they could’ve made up for his absence with better ball movement to get open shots, especially in the first half Friday.
“We make ourselves look really, really good when we share the ball,” Pitino said. “We get out on the break, share the ball and do good things. Today, we didn’t do that. Fortunately we got the win.”
Pitino pointed out that Minnesota gave itself a chance to win by defending the three-point line (Southern Illinois shot 2-for-17) and won the rebounding battle (44-37).
But the Gophers allowed the Salukis to stay in the game after shooting a season-low 38 percent from the field.
In the first half, the Gophers found themselves trailing 18-14 when Murphy scored back-to-back baskets, including an emphatic baseline dunk. Amir Coffey, who had a team-best 13 points, followed with a dunk plus the foul when Nate Mason found him in transition. Mason then scored a three-pointer and on a layup after forcing a 10-second violation on SIU.
It was a 12-0 run before the Salukis responded with their first points in more than eight minutes. That’s the type of run we’ve been accustomed to seeing from Minnesota during this 6-0 start.
The confusing part is why it didn't continue Friday against an overmatched opponent. Pitino thought his post players (8-for-20 shooting) needed to kick the ball out more for the offense to find more rhythm.
“We don’t talk much about shots going in,” Pitino said. “We talk about shot selection. We talk about sharing the ball.”
FREE-THROW WOES: The Gophers missed 10 free throws Friday after going 3-for-7 in the first half. Murphy is having the biggest problem at the foul line. The sophomore captain hit 7-for-8 against Texas Arlington on Nov. 14, but Murphy’s just 5-for-17 on free throws since then. His free throw shooting dropped from 61.2 percent to 48 percent this season.
Minnesota ranked seventh in the Big Ten entering the game at 69.6 percent from the foul line.
“We don’t practice them much,” Pitino joked. “You miss a couple and then all of a sudden everybody gets a little tight. We emphasize it. We talk about it. I just think it’s one of those things where everybody kind of feels it. It’s natural. Our guys got to understand to stay confident. We’re a much better free-throw shooting team than we showed.”
COFFEY TIME: Coffey, who is averaging a team-high 15.8 points per game, now has scored in double figures for his first six college games. Murphy had seven straight double figure scoring games last season in Big Ten play. But Coffey has the longest double-figure scoring stretch for a freshman to start his career since Kris Humphries in 2003-04. It’ll be tough to top Humphries, who scored double figures in every game he played at Minnesota as a freshman.