When the Gophers basketball team flew home from Florida State and studied the game video of the season’s first loss, Richard Pitino didn’t tear into his players.
Sure, Pitino told his big men they needed to be tougher for the frontcourt battles that await them in the Big Ten. He told his guards they had to make better decisions under pressure. He told his entire team it had to do a better job defending without fouling, especially with how close officials call it away from home.
But the fourth-year Minnesota coach didn’t appear overly concerned the loss would affect his 6-1 Gophers team’s confidence Saturday vs. Vanderbilt (4-3) at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“We haven’t had to give them a wake-up call yet,” Pitino said. “But they have to understand that opponent was like a Big Ten opponent. They were tough. They were physical. They were talented. And if you want to win in the league, you can’t play like that.”
Freshman Amir Coffey, who was averaging over 16 points entering Monday’s 75-67 loss to the Seminoles, had just seven points in 18 minutes after being limited with foul trouble. Sophomore captain Jordan Murphy also had his worst performance of the season with five points on 0-for-6 shooting in 24 minutes.
Senior Akeem Springs had to give the team a lift off the bench. He tied fellow captain Nate Mason with a team-high 11 points vs. Florida State.
He wants to see how his teammates respond to the first loss.
“I think that’s going to be the biggest test for us,” Springs said, “just to see how we respond as a team; how guys stick together. How guys buy into everything the coach is saying. It’s tough to do when you have a loss.”
Murphy hadn’t gone without a field goal since his third college game in a loss to Temple in Puerto Rico last year. He’s scored just 14 points combined on 4-for-16 shooting in his last two games, after averaging 11.8 points and shooting 54.5 percent from the field in his first five games.
“They were trapping with his guy and almost baiting him to go make plays,” Pitino said about Florida State. “So go make plays. He’s got the freedom to do that. It’s not just one guy; it’s everybody.”
Murphy has goals of becoming an All-Big Ten player this year. But Pitino said, “He’s not Steph Curry.”
“I think he’s a good player,” he said. “But I don’t look at Jordan Murphy and say, ‘that’s a natural scorer.’ I think he produces. I’m very happy with him.”
Murphy hasn’t put up bigger numbers this season because of the presence of more frontcourt depth with starting center Reggie Lynch and backup forward Eric Curry averaging over 16 points combined. Lynch returned to the lineup Monday after missing the Southern Illinois game last week with an ankle injury, but he wasn’t 100 percent.
The Illinois State transfer also wasn’t used to banging inside in the Missouri Valley Conference against big men like Florida State’s 7-1, 304-pound Michael Ojo.
“That’s going to be how a lot of Big Ten games are going to be,” Lynch said. “It was good to get a game in early. To have that type of physicality and size. Now we know what it takes to win against physical teams, big teams. It was a good test for us. It will help us moving forward.”
Lynch, a 6-10, 260-pound junior, will battle Vanderbilt’s 7-1, 250-pound senior Luke Kornett, who led the SEC in blocks last season. It will be another way to measure his effectiveness and toughness against a talented big man.
Facing a second consecutive major conference opponent will help Minnesota see if it’s any closer to being ready for Big Ten-level competition.
“The team huddled together and talked about the loss to Florida State,” Lynch said. “We feel like we’ll rebound back from it very well. We’re very excited to play in the Pentagon against a very good Vanderbilt team. We’re ready for the challenge.”