Looking as sharp as they have in weeks, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were prepared to enter their Christmas break with some momentum.
Then a setback.
After tying a career high with five 3-pointers in the first half, senior point guard Nate Mason went down with a lower left leg injury, was tended to by a trainer and could not put any weight on his injured leg as he was helped off the floor and brought to the locker room.
Minnesota’s 95-60 win over the Florida Atlantic Owls quickly became a sidenote.
Mason was scheduled to get an MRI Saturday night.
“Tough kid. Hope for the best,” said head coach Richard Pitino. “We’ll get a better gauge tonight. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious, but he’s a tough kid.”
Mason, a first team All-Big Ten guard last season, was averaging 15.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists coming into Saturday’s game. He had 17 points on 5-of-8 3-point shooting in the first half alone against the Owls.
With 16:13 remaining in the game, Mason tripped after getting his feet tangled with Ronald Delph. Replays didn’t show conclusively what Mason injured, but the medical staff appeared to focus on his left foot/ankle.
“I’m sure Nate will push through,” said fellow senior Reggie Lynch, “and if it turns out to be something that’s bad, which we’re hoping it isn’t, then we’ll band together and just fight through it as a team.”
The Decatur, Ga., native has over 1,400 points and 400 assists in his Gophers career. He was replaced in the game by freshman Isaiah Washington, who may be forced to grow up quickly if Mason misses extended time. Washington is shooting 36 percent for the year — 14 percent from 3-point range — with 35 assists and 20 turnovers.
“You don’t just replace Nate Mason, certainly,” said Pitino.
The Gophers lost a key guard last year, as well. Senior Akeem Springs tore his Achilles during the Big Ten tournament and missed Minnesota’s final two games, both of which they lost.
If Mason were to miss the rest of the season, he would likely not be able to acquire another year of eligibility since he will have played in over 30 percent of the team’s games this season.
The game itself
The Gophers won their third straight contest, never trailing against the Owls as they quickly built a 30-9 lead after nine minutes.
Minnesota shot 58.1 percent in the first half to build a 53-31 edge at the break. In addition to Mason’s sharpshooting, the Gophers also got eight points in the first half from Michael Hurt, who started for the second straight game in place of Dupree McBrayer (stress reaction).
Hurt set a career high with 10 points on Thursday against Oral Roberts and looked sharp again versus the Owls.
“I think he’s playing more confidently, and that just comes with age,” said Pitino. “He’s a sophomore, he works hard, he plays the right way, he moves the ball, so yeah, I think he’s very confident right now, and these last couple games have been good for him.”
The Gophers also received 14 points and 11 rebounds from Jordan Murphy, who contributed his 14th straight double-double. Reggie Lynch and Amir Coffey added 11.
Minnesota led by as many as 42 points in the second half and was able to clear the bench, allowing walk-on freshman Hunt Conroy to score his first points of the season on a dazzling reverse layup that brought the bench to its feet.
— Minnesota on BTN (@MinnesotaOnBTN) December 23, 2017
Stats to Think About
- The Gophers matched a season high with 11 3-pointers made, including three from Jamir Harris, who made his first field goals since Nov. 25.
- There were only two fast-break points scored in the game — Coffey’s steal and dunk in the second half.
- Coffey’s eight assists matched a season high and were one short of a career high. His ability to pass the basketball will be critical if Mason is out.
Minnesota gets a week off before facing Harvard, out of the Ivy League. The Crimson are coming off a 58-48 loss to George Washington.