WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Richard Pitino thinks Nate Mason isn’t getting enough respect.
The Gophers fourth-year basketball coach won’t have to worry about that anymore after Mason’s 31-point, 11-assist, six-rebound effort Sunday in a 91-82 overtime win against No. 15 Purdue at Mackey Arena.
“I’ve tried to tell everybody why shouldn’t Nate Mason be considered one of the better guards in the league?” Pitino said. “Nobody ever mentions it. So I’m proud of him to breakthrough against a very good defensive team.”
Pitino has always stuck up for Mason. But the Gophers junior guard and team captain actually has been getting some attention this season.
Big Ten Network’s Shon Morris named Mason as one of the conference’s most improved players and listed Mason among the league’s best players through nonconference play. Other Big Ten observers are sure to follow.
Mason’s previous career high was 25 points in a loss at Michigan last season. The Georgia native proved then he could be one of the Big Ten’s top point guards, averaging 16 points and six assists in his last seven games in 2015-16 before being suspended.
Despite his 18 points in Tuesday’s 75-74 overtime loss against Michigan State, Mason missed a potential game-winning shot in overtime. The loss wasn’t his fault, but Mason believed he could’ve played better, so he put up some extra shots before the New Year.
The result was Mason beginning 2017 with the best game of his career.
“Coach kept telling me, ‘Be aggressive, be aggressive,’” Mason said. “Once I saw the first two shots fall in I knew I was going to have a big night. The rim got kind of big for me and I just kept shooting. Coach let me keep shooting. It was falling.”
Mason is Minnesota’s most consistent player, scoring in double figures in 14 of 15 games this year. He’s averaging 17.6 points and 6.6 assists in the last seven games, but he continues to work on improving after each game.
“I was in the gym a lot after the Michigan State game,” he said. “I felt like I, not lost the game, but did some mistakes toward the end. It was obvious I needed to get in the gym, so I did every day until this game – and it paid off.”
CURRY TIME: Freshman Eric Curry was playing in his first Big Ten road game Sunday, but he said the nervousness went away after he nailed his first three-pointer.
That was near the 12-minute mark in the second half, but Curry really showed his poise in overtime.
The 6-foot-9 Memphis native scored seven points, including his second three-pointer during an 11-0 run in the extra period to help the Gophers pull away from Purdue. Curry was 1-for-7 from beyond the arc entering Sunday. He had 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting from the field, seven rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes.
“All the coaches and every player on the team just always had confidence in me and always believed I could do those things,” Curry said. “I just kept my hopes up. It gave me great confidence to come in and produce.”
BIG MEN RESPOND: The Gophers frontcourt got dominated by Nick Ward at the end of Tuesday’s loss against Michigan State. Caleb Swanigan finished with 28 points and 22 rebounds Sunday, but he was held in check in the second half and overtime.
Swanigan scored 16 points in the first half, but he had eight points on 2-for-5 shooting in the second half. Purdue’s 7-2 center Isaac Haas finished with just six points, three rebounds and four turnovers.
Reggie Lynch outplayed Haas with 10 points, six rebounds, five blocks and two steals. Lynch, Jordan Murphy and Curry combined for 36 points, 19 rebounds and seven blocks Sunday. That was a big offensive improvement from when the Gophers’ frontcourt trio was outscored 22-19 by Ward alone Tuesday against the Spartans.