Reggie Lynch didn't wait for Arkansas to throw the first punch on Tuesday.
The Gophers' 6-10, 260-pound center knew he had to raise his level of play, matching up against the Southeastern Conference preseason player of the year, Moses Kingsley.
“I always get excited to play against a guy who is considered the hardest test,” Lynch said before Tuesday's 85-71 win against Arkansas.
Lynch scored his team's first three points, including a dunk over Kingsley that set the tone early. Even after Arkansas took a one-point lead later in the first half, Lynch had an answer. He finished with 10 first-half points, to go with seven rebounds and three blocks.
The Edina native would only play four minutes the rest of the game because of a bad ankle he injured on a fall in the first half. His status for Friday’s game against Southern Illinois is uncertain, but Gophers coach Richard Pitino said “I don’t think it’s anything serious.”
“He was hobbling that second half, so we took him out,” Pitino said. “It’s too bad he got hurt, because I thought he was playing a really good game.”
Kingsley finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but he had just four points until Lynch was subbed out for good. The Razorbacks shot just 28 percent from the field in the first half. Much of that was because they were forced to take contested jumpers or change their shot with Lynch protecting the rim.
He earned that type of respect coming off a nine-block game last week against St. John’s.
“He changes it big time,” Pitino said. “I think that’s why our defense is pretty good. Whenever you have a good shot blocker in there, guys are a little bit uncertain (to shoot). What we have to do is a little better job rebounding on the rotation after the shot block.”
Jordan Murphy finished 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. The frountcourt trio of Lynch, Murphy and Eric Curry combined for 32 points, 18 rebounds and four steals against Arkansas.
If Lynch thought Kingsley was a test, wait until he plays Florida State's towering frontcourt with Michael Ojo (7-1, 304), Chris Koumadje (7-4) and Jonathan Issac (6-11). Vanderbilt also has a preseason All-SEC pick in 7-1. 250-pound Luke Kornet.
Bench support: Dupree McBrayer, the team’s second leading scorer at 14.8 points per game, had just three points after sitting for most of the game with foul trouble. Starters McBrayer, Coffey and Jordan Murphy had just seven points combined in the first half, but Minnesota got 23 points from Akeem Springs and Curry off the bench Tuesday.
“You always want to be ready to step up,” said Springs, who had 11 points in the first half off the bench. “Everybody on our team is ready to step in and contribute when it's their time and whenever it's possible.”
High-profile visitors: Four of the top class of 2018 high school players from Minnesota were in attendance Tuesday, including Armstrong’s Race Thompson, Cretin-Derham Hall’s Daniel Oturu, DeLaSalle’s Gabe Kalscheur and former Orono star Jarvis Thomas, who transferred to Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas.