North Carolina A&T vs. Gophers men’s basketball
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
Jelly Fam Dimes – Sophomore point guard Isaiah Washington missed practice this week with a cold. Richard Pitino joked that it was the best practice of the season with him gone, but Washington returned to the team Thursday. The 6-foot-1 Harlem native will try to follow up the 13-assist game against North Florida in his last outing Dec. 11. Washington’s career performance was the second highest single-game assist total in school history, three shy of the record held by Ariel McDonald. Washington, who had eight assists in the first half against North Florida, also had 11 assists in the season opener vs. Omaha. The co-founder of Jelly Fam might be known for his trademark finger roll, but his best attribute is his passing ability off the dribble. North Carolina A&T sophomore guard Kameron Langley is tied for 10th in the nation with 6.9 assists per game this season, including 10.1 assists per 40 minutes. Could we have two players with double-digit assists on Friday night?
Oturu’s presence – The Gophers won’t have Eric Curry for Friday night’s game against North Carolina A&T, but that isn’t something new for this frontcourt. Curry, a 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore, has missed all 11 games recovering from knee surgery in the fall. Replacing Curry as the starting center has been freshman Daniel Oturu, who is averaging 9.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. The 6-10 former Cretin-Derham Hall standout had his third straight double-figure scoring game and second straight double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds against North Florida. Curry has been a mentor for Oturu this season, helping to speed up his development.
Limiting turnovers – The Gophers focused more on taking care of the ball than anything else in practice during the finals break. If they wanted to improve offensively when Big Ten play resumes in January, it will start with limiting turnovers in the last two nonconference games against North Carolina A&T and Mount St. Mary’s. Pitino’s team ranks 12th in the Big Ten in turnover margin (minus-0.8), including 13.6 turnovers per game. In the last game Dec. 11 against North Florida, Washington finished with 13 assists and zero turnovers. But senior forward Jordan Murphy, who ranks third on the team with 2.8 assists, had a season-worst six turnovers in the win.
Time: 7 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers favored by 21.5 points. Series: First meeting. TV: None. Online/Live video: BTN Plus Radio: 100.3 FM.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (9-2)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 16.0
G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.9
G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 10.8
F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 14.9
C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 9.8
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 5.5 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 2.0 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 2.4 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 3.9 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 1.6 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 99-80 (6th season)
Notable: Curry, who missed last season with torn ligaments and meniscus in his left knee, practiced for an hour Thursday with full contact. He worked out in the shootaround Friday, but he was not cleared to make his season debut against North Carolina A&T. He started in the Oct. 20 scrimmage at Creighton, but Curry was sidelined again after an MRI revealed cartilage damage with his previously injured left knee. Knee swelling was the previous issue, but the Gophers haven't said what is holding Curry back now. He averaged 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game on the U’s NCAA tournament team in 2017. ... Pitino could pick up his 100th victory at Minnesota tonight against North Carolina A&T.
North Carolina A&T (4-7)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Kameron Langley 6-2 So. 6.0
G-Qua Copeland 6-1 Jr. 12.5
G-Milik Gantz 6-3 Sr. 9.4
F-Terry Harris 6-6 Sr. 11.7
F-Ibrahim Sylla 6-8 Sr. 7.5
Key reserves– Amari Hamilton, G, 6-1, Sr., 5.3 ppg; Ronald Jackson, F, 6-8, Jr., 5.0 ppg; Aaren Edmead, G, 5-10, Sr., 4.3 ppg; Andre Jackson, G, 6-4, Jr., 4.0 ppg; Tyrone Lyons, F, 6-6, Fr., 3.7 ppg.
Coach: Jay Joyner 32-56 (4th season)
Notable: Terry Harris, a 6-foot-6 senior from Dix Hills, N.Y., is the younger brother of NBA forward Tobias Harris. The younger Harris is averaging 11.7 points per game this season, including a career-high 27 points on 8-for-11 shooting from three-point range in a Dec. 1 loss vs. Presbyterian. The former Eastern Michigan transfer is one of the top shooters in the country at 50.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Fuller’s prediction: Gophers 85, North Carolina A&T 68. The Gophers are coming off a 10-day break from competition, but they appear due for a confidence building win. In their last game in an 80-71 win Dec. 11 against North Florida, the Gophers had to sweat it out late behind Washington’s playmaking and Murphy’s 20 points and 18 rebounds. That was without senior guard Dupree McBrayer, who was in New York to be with his family after his mother’s death. McBrayer, who is averaging 9.9 points this season, returned to the team and win play Friday. That should help Minnesota get back on track with a big win before Christmas to help build some momentum going into the Big Ten, which starts Jan. 3 at Wisconsin.