Gophers’ fans waiting after games to get autographs from players happens all the time, but it’s rare to see them react like they did Friday after the season-opening 92-77 win against South Carolina Upstate.
A group of kids beamed as Jordan Murphy stuck around to greet them and sign their game programs. After Murphy walked away they chanted “MVP! MVP! MVP!” for his 35-point, 15-rebound performance in the first victory of the season.
Murphy’s night wasn’t just a career-best game but one that ranks among the all-time greats at home in Gophers history.
"Makes me feel good that the guys have confidence to keep going to me until they stop me," Murphy said Friday.
The Trojans never could stop the 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior power forward.
The last player to score more points at the Barn was former NBA player and current Timberwolves analyst Quincy Lewis with 36 points against Indiana in 1998. Of course, Andre Hollins exploded for 41 points against Memphis in the Battle of Atlantis in the Bahamas in 2012, but both of those monster scoring games were from perimeter players.
When was the last time a post player scored 30-plus points for the Gophers? Current NBA journeyman Kris Humphries comes to mind during his freshman year in 2003-04. Humphries had 36 points at Indiana and 32 points against Virginia at home.
The 6-foot-9, 235-pound former Hopkins standout averaged 21.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in his only season at Minnesota, but his team went just 12-18.
So you would have to go back even further to find a Gopher be this dominant at home for a winning squad. Names that come to mind are Randy Breuer, Mychal Thompson and Kevin McHale. That’s some pretty good company to be in. Let me know if you can think of any others.
|Top Gopher big man performances|
|42 Eric Magdanz at Michigan 1962|
|39 Ronald Johnson at Ohio State 1959|
|38 Maynard Johnson vs. Colorado 1950|
|37 Tom Kondla vs. Iowa 1967|
|37 Tom McGrann at Indiana 1962|
|36 Kris Humphries at Indiana 2004|
|36 Tom Kondla vs. Michigan 1967|
|36 Jim McIntyre vs. Iowa 1948|
|35 Mychal Thompson vs. Purdue 1978|
|35 Jordan Murphy vs. USC Upstate 2017|
Big Ten’s best frontcourt tandem?
There were times last season when Murphy and Reggie Lynch looked like the Big Ten’s best and most physical frontcourt tandem, but they also struggled in other games to stay out of foul trouble and make an impact together.
Granted the competition was far from what the Gophers will face even Monday against Providence. But Murphy and Lynch definitely showed their potential when both are major factors on the same night.
They combined for 50 points, 25 rebounds, four blocks and seven dunks Friday, which included shooting 19-for-30 from the field. Both of them committed just one foul each. Part of that came from the opposing post players playing a lot outside of the key, but it was still the most impressive dual performance we’ve seen by two big men in a long time as well.
Minnesota won the rebounding battle 54-35 and grabbed 20 offensive rebounds. Murphy (nine) and Lynch had more offensive rebounds combined then USC Upstate’s team 14-11.
Lynch had a hilarious response to what he thought of Murphy’s awesome outing.
“I’ve always been happy to see my kids excel at a high level,” said the 23-year-old Lynch. “It was good to see my son do well. It was awesome to see since Jordan is my main (power forward) when I’m in.”
The only other frontcourt in the Big Ten that can come close to surpassing Minnesota in talent I believe is Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward. They combined for 29 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in the Spartans’ season-opening 98-66 win against North Florida. I know you’re thinking why isn’t Miles Bridges mentioned here? Well, because he’s now playing more on the perimeter with the presence of Jackson.
Washington struggles in debut
It’s been a long time since freshman Isaiah Washington struggled as much offensively as he did Friday night in his Gophers’ debut.
Washington’s four points on 1-for-9 shooting, included going 1-for-7 from three-point range and one rejected jelly finger roll. The New York point guard and social media sensation had a tough task living up to the hype he had coming into the season. But Washington found other ways to help the Gophers with a team-high five assists and one turnover in 23 minutes off the bench.
Pitino said Washington had trouble, as most of his guards did, dealing with a matchup zone. He blamed himself for not putting his backcourt players in the right spots to have a better scoring night.
Freshman Jamir Harris had six points on 2-for-4 shooting from three-point range in 11 minutes in his first Gophers game. Junior forward Davonte Fitzgerald, who also made his debut, had two points and four rebounds in 10 minutes Friday.
USC Upstate finished the game going 14-for-31 from three-point range (45.2 percent), which tied for the second most threes given up to an opponent in Gophers history. Illinois was the last opponent to hit 14 threes in a game on March 9, 2016.
Trojans guard Jure Span had 19 points on 5-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Gophers allowed three teams to shoot a combined 38 percent from three-point range in exhibition games. So this will be an area where they need to fix soon. Providence hit eight three-pointers in a 84-55 win Friday against Houston Baptist.