With one senior absent and the other a no-show in the box score, the final stretch of the Gophers’ 74-68 near miss at Indiana on Saturday played out like an ode to the future, one Minnesota hopes will be brighter than the current landslide.
An offense that often gets stagnant and relies far too heavily on three-pointers suddenly was on the attack, getting out in transition and taking the ball to the hoop forcefully and effectively.
The spark? The Gophers’ tiniest backcourt – 6-foot Kevin Dorsey, 6-2 Nate Mason and 6-4 Dupree McBrayer. It also happens to be Minnesota’s fastest look, and in Bloomington that combination worked.
Mason and Dorsey took turns whipping to the rim for scores and their speed, helped by McBrayer’s added push, kept Indiana on edge and seemed to baffle senior Hoosiers guard Yogi Ferrell at times. Minnesota pulled within one after a layup from Mason and then took the one-point lead after McBrayer swiped the ball from Troy Williams on the ensuing possession and raced down the court for a dunk. Mason and Dorsey put up 21 points apiece and McBrayer added eight and five assists. Indiana would get the stops it needed down the stretch to halt that momentum, but the competitive loss provided a peek at what the Gophers could look like down the road with those guards rooting the lineup.
“I thought we were really getting downhill,” coach Richard Pitino said afterward. “With the speed of Dupree, Kevin and Nate – that’s a tough cover.”
To some extent, the lineup was forced. While Joey King went scoreless, fellow senior Carlos Morris didn’t make the trip to Indiana due to the funeral of a family friend in his home state, Florida. That left eight scholarship players in the rotation including backup center Gaston Diedhiou, who is averaging just 5.6 minutes a game. At the end of the game, Pitino said he thought Mason was tired, and he commented that he felt he played several guys too many minutes.
“That was a tough game to coach, last game, from a substitution standpoint,” Pitino said. “I mean, we went in there with eight scholarship players. I felt like we were on probation …Once we get full strength, I like our team. “
Morris is back with the team on Thursday in the greater Chicago area, but Pitino said he’s keeping all options open against Northwestern, including more of the quick, undersized trio against the Wildcats’ talented guards, pointing out that such a configuration gives Minnesota more options off ball screens. But he’s concerned about the same lineup competing defensively and on the boards because of its lack of length and size.
“It’s a nice added dimension,” Pitino said of the versatility. “If Kevin is playing like that, we can do it, but he’s a bit of a wildcard. He can come in there and not be as solid as he’s always been.”
Dorsey, meanwhile, sounded as confident as ever.
“People fear our speed,” he said. “The last game was probably the best fast-break game we’ve had. Me and Nate were getting out in transition and we were pretty much getting any baskets that we wanted.
“I think us playing small is just about will, to be able to rebound and everything like that. The biggest thing is it’s just up to us.”