Read my full story on Minnesota’s 86-77 loss at Penn State here.
Three quick observations before I catch three hours of sleep ahead of my unnecessarily extensive journey back to Minneapolis tomorrow:
Where did that come from? Fifty-five percent from three-point range? Eleven threes from six different players? Outshooting the competition? None of this sounds like the Minnesota team I’ve been paid to watch for the last few months, but that was the Gophers reality through much of Tuesday. Suddenly, Minnesota was lighting it up from beyond the arc, hitting clutch baskets and silencing Penn State’s meager crowd with an offensive firestorm. Even Jordan Murphy was hitting three-pointers, which accounted for two of his three shots. Based on everything we know to be true about this Gophers team, it made no sense.
Role reversal. Last time out, in a 69-61 loss to Michigan State, the absence of the seniors was a big storyline. Tonight, with seniors Joey King and Carlos Morris combining for 34 points, the glare was on two freshmen the Gophers have come to rely on instead – Jordan Murphy and Kevin Dorsey. Those two combined for just ten points as Dorsey was extremely mistake-prone and fouled on the three-point line while Murphy battled foul trouble the entire game and never found his offensive groove. The interesting thing is I think Minnesota missed the two youngsters more tonight than it missed the upperclassmen on Saturday.
This one might be more concerning. Minnesota had one of its better offensive games of the season and it still managed to fritter away two eight-point leads and its third Big Ten game. What would have happened if the Gophers hadn’t been so hot from beyond the arc? Not a pretty picture. The Gophers have struggled all year to score inside and showed on Tuesday that it’s nearly impossible without Murphy flexing. What’s more, Minnesota has this tendency to abandon the things that work – like moving the ball and getting high-percentage shots – in moments of distress. The Gophers will have to put it all together to win any game in the league this season and so far, they haven’t proven capable of that.