TULSA, OKLA. – For the first time this season, the Gophers had to figure out how to play without Payton Willis for an entire game, but they made up for the loss of their injured guard by committee in Saturday’s 86-66 victory Oklahoma State.
Willis, who averages 11 points and led the team with 27 three-pointers through nine games, watched from the sideline in a walking boot to rest his sore left ankle.
Freshman Tre’ Williams earned the first start of his career, but senior Michael Hurt also helped to make up for the absence of a veteran presence in the rotation.
When the Cowboys turned up the pressure after falling behind early in the first half, the Gophers looked to Hurt, who played a season-high 27 minutes. He scored seven points on 3-for-3 shooting, but it was his defense and steadiness taking care of the ball that made the biggest difference Saturday.
“Michael Hurt stepped up big time,” coach Richard Pitino said. “He was plus-26 in the plus-minus. He was ready to go. That’s what a senior captain needs to be about. I thought he was terrific.”
Willis missed the second half Sunday vs. Ohio State, but he was first hobbled in a Dec. 9 loss at Iowa.
Pitino said players will get the next three days off for Christmas before they practice again Friday before Saturday’s game vs. Florida International.
The Gophers watched Colorado State beat Tulsa 111-104 in triple overtime in the first game Saturday at BOK Center. The Rams had strong Minnesota ties with coach Niko Medved, a St. Paul native and former Gophers manager and assistant.
Medved’s staff includes assistant Dave Thorson (former DeLaSalle coach and Gophers assistant) and director of basketball Aaron Katsuma (former Gophers graduate assistant). Freshman David Roddy of Breck had 17 points and 11 rebounds in his first start for the Rams.