As frustrating as it was for the Gophers to lose another road game in Saturday’s 83-77 loss at Penn State, Richard Pitino couldn’t help but to praise center Daniel Oturu’s career-best performance.
Oturu did just about everything he could to give Minnesota a chance to win after trailing by 19 points in the second half Saturday.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore racked up 32 points on 12-for-23 shooting from the field and 8-for-9 shooting from the foul line, to go with 16 rebounds and three blocks in 36 minutes.
“He's a big-time player,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “Long arms, he's athletic, and he's got great touch from 15 feet. He's a big time player.”
It was Oturu's second 30-point performance in Big Ten play, which included his previous career-best 30 points in a Jan. 12 win against Michigan. He was just the third major conference player to have at least 30 points and 15 rebounds in a game this season, joining Purdue’s Trevion Williams and Georgetown’s Omer Yurtseven.
“The student section was on him early,” Pitino said after Saturday’s loss. “I didn’t know how he would respond. I think he was a little bit embarrassed from the first game (squabble with Lamar Stevens). They certainly were good, and everybody competed their [tail] off. You just never know how mentally somebody is going to be throughout the course of game. Daniel was terrific.”
In the Gophers’ 75-69 win Jan. 15 against Penn State at home, Oturu finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds, but he was caught on video having a heated verbal exchange with Nittany Lions senior Stevens in the postgame handshake line.
Stevens clearly was fired up in the rematch vs. Oturu. He finished with a career-high 33 points to lead his team to a sixth straight win and first against Minnesota since 2017. Penn State jumped to No. 13 in the Associated Press Poll this week.
“He’s a tough player,” Oturu said of Stevens. “Everybody thinks there’s a beef with us from the last exchange, but Lamar’s a great player. I respect him. He’s a competitor, just like I’m a competitor. He played well and helped his team win the game. That’s all that’s really about. We’re trying to help our teams win the game.”
Oturu has another matchup with one of the top frontcourt players in the Big Ten on Sunday when the Gophers host the league’s leading scorer Luka Garza and Iowa at Williams Arena.
Garza might be the favorite for Big Ten player of the year, but Oturu has put up just as impressive numbers. His scoring at center and for his class is the best the Gophers’ program has seen in several decades.
The former Cretin-Derham Hall standout is averaging 20.1 points, a league-best 11.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. Oturu’s on pace to have the second highest scoring average for a sophomore in Gophers history. Currently, former Gophers great Lou Hudson’s 18.1 points per game in 1963-64 are behind the school's all-time leading scorer and center Mychal Thompson’s 25.9 points per game in 1975-76.
Oturu’s 12 games with at least 20 points are the the most for the program in a season since former NBA forward Kris Humphries had 20 games with 20 or more points in 2003-04.
Oturu’s eight games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds are tied for seventh in team history with former Gophers star Jordan Murphy’s 2017-18 season. Humphries had 12 of those games in his only year.
Not many Gophers big men have scored 30 points once in their careers let alone twice in a season. Here are some top scoring performances by U post players in the last 20 years.
Gophers big men 30-point games since 2000
36 Kris Humphries at Indiana 2004
35 Jordan Murphy vs. USC Upstate 2017
34 Dusty Rychart vs. Hawaii-Pacific 2000
33 Joel Przybilla vs. Indiana 2000
32 Daniel Oturu at Penn State 2020
32 Dusty Rychart vs. TCU 2000
30 Daniel Oturu vs. Michigan 2020
*30 Jordan Murphy vs. North Carolina A&T 2018
*The last time a Gophers player had at least 30 points and 15 rebounds in a game before Oturu on Saturday.