Minneapolis — Minnesota was reminded of a valuable lesson on Monday night when Drake had the Golden Gophers on the ropes. When in doubt, get the ball to Jordan Murphy.
Murphy posted his 12th straight double-double to start the season with 24 points and 18 rebounds, and Minnesota held off Drake 68-67.
“He did it with sheer will,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “He just got it done the old-fashioned way.”
Murphy, third in the nation in rebounding, had 14 points and 11 rebounds in the second half alone. Meanwhile, Amir Coffey scored all 16 of his points after the break as Minnesota (9-3) shot 62 percent in the second half to rally from a nine-point deficit.
Ore Arogundade led the Bulldogs (5-5) with 15 points, while Graham Woodward added 15 and De’Antae McMurray 12.
Coming off consecutive double-digit losses at Nebraska and Arkansas that knocked them out of the Top 25, the Gophers came out flat, shooting just 30 percent in the first half as they fell behind by eight early.
“We were playing with the weight of the world on our shoulders,” said Murphy, who made 11 of 14 shots from the floor. “The pressure of winning this game today was something we had in the back of our minds.”
The Gophers missed their first six shots while 3-pointers by Woodward, McMurray and Noah Thomas gave Drake an 11-3 lead. But after a timeout, Murphy scored eight straight points for Minnesota to tie it at 11.
Drake threatened to run away in the second half as McMurray and Thomas hit 3-pointers, and Reed Timmer sank three free throws to build a 41-32 lead. But again, Murphy responded with eight straight points, the final four on monster dunks that energized a crowd that previously hadn’t had much to cheer about.
Dupree McBrayer’s 3-pointer with nine minutes to play gave Minnesota its first lead, 50-47. His steal and dunk gave the Gophers their largest lead at 61-54.
Woodward, a senior from nearby Edina, Minnesota, hit a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer to cut Minnesota’s lead to 64-62 with two minutes to play. Murphy again came through, scoring off an offensive rebound and adding another bucket in the low post.
Minnesota had the ball and a six-point lead twice in the final 30 seconds but almost gave the game away. First McBrayer stepped out of bounds along the sideline. Then after a Drake turnover, Gophers forward Michael Hurt missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 12 seconds left.
Arogundade drove the lane to score on the other end, and Minnesota turned it over on the inbounds pass. The ball ended up in the hands of Woodward, who hit a 3-pointer, but the clock ran out.
“I think it’s better to learn from a win than from a loss,” Murphy said. “It’s definitely a learning experience for us.”
(At) Northwestern 96, Chicago State 31: Northwestern may want to petition to take another full week off in the future.
Vic Law scored 18 points and the Wildcats followed a seven-day layoff with the largest margin of victory in program history, beating Chicago State 96-31 on Monday night.
Northwestern (6-4) also established a program record for the fewest points yielded in a half in the shot-clock era as it raced out to a 55-8 lead at halftime. The 31 points allowed marked the second-lowest point total ever given up by a Wildcats team in the shot-clock era. The 65-point differential topped Northwestern’s 101-49 victory over Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 14, 2014.
“We kind of refocused ourselves,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “The first five games we kind of got away from what made us good (defensively) in the past. It wasn’t like our character was bad or our attitude. We had to get back to work. We had to regain our edge. We had to regain our spirit.”
Apparently, Finals Week did the trick.
After splitting a pair of early Big Ten conference meetings, including a Dec. 3 loss at Purdue, the Wildcats didn’t practice until Wednesday so players could take final exams.
But instead of looking like a team coming off a long layoff, Northwestern was energized early. Bolstered by torrid 3-point shooting and a swarming defense, the Wildcats scored the first 15 points of the contest and added a 21-0 run before halftime. Northwestern shot 9-for-16 from behind the arc and had assists on 14 of its 16 first-half buckets.
Aaron Falzon added 15 points for the Wildcats, who began a stretch of three games in six days with a season-high for points and assists (20).
Chicago State (2-11), which had scoreless droughts of 4 minutes, 40 seconds and 6 minutes, 40 seconds, made just 2-of-19 shots and committed 15 turnovers before the half. The 25 turnovers forced by Northwestern also was a season-high.