Following the Gophers men’s basketball team’s gutsy 75-67 victory over No. 19 Michigan on Sunday, first-year Wolverines coach Juwan Howard had a lengthy conversation with opposing sophomore center Daniel Oturu in the postgame handshake line.
Howard, the former Wolverines center who played in the NBA from 1994 to 2013, was impressed by the play of Oturu, who finished with 30 points and seven rebounds.
“He played phenomenal today,” Howard said. “He showed a lot of mental toughness to come back in the game after having a shoulder injury. It showed that the game meant a lot to him. He came back and gave his team a big lift in the second half with his energy. The crowd got really into it.”
After the Gophers’ 74-58 loss at Michigan State on Thursday, Oturu was praised by Spartans coach Tom Izzo for being the best big man his team faced so far this season. That list included Duke’s Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt, Michigan’s Jon Teske and Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn.
The Wolverines had given up some huge games choosing to play opposing big men 1-on-1. Iowa’s Luke Garza scored 44 points in a loss, and Purdue’s Trevion Williams had 36 points and 20 rebounds in a double-overtime loss Thursday. But Howard called Oturu “special.”
“He’s not only done it to us,” Howard said, “but he’s been playing very well throughout the season so far.”
Oturu said he was starstruck a little before the game seeing Howard on the court with the Wolverines. Even though Howard played nearly two decades in the NBA, he’s still primarily known for being a star on Michigan’s Fab Five teams with Jalen Rose and Chris Webber in the 1990s.
“In warmups, I was kind of in awe,” Oturu said. “Just to be able to have a conversation with him for a little bit after the game meant a lot to me. I felt like I earned his respect.”
Demir steps up
In the past three games, Gophers senior forward Alihan Demir has been showing why the Gophers were so high on him joining the program as a graduate transfer from Drexel last summer.
Demir, who was averaging 7.9 points entering Sunday, had his third consecutive double-figure scoring game, finishing with 13 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the floor and 5-for-6 on free throws. He scored 11 points after Oturu briefly went down in the second half.
“He’s playing really good basketball,” coach Richard Pitino said. “He’s showing really good patience down low and he’s got really good footwork.”