In their season-opening rout of Omaha, the Minnesota Golden Gophers leaned on a couple of vets in Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer to lead a relentless offensive attack as the Gophers hung 104 points.
Monday provided a greater test against a bigger Utah team, and the Gophers won with a different style and an emerging star.
Minnesota ground out a 78-69 victory against last year’s NIT runner-up, aided by a team-high 19 points from freshman Gabe Kalscheur, who drilled his first five 3-point shots.
On a night when much of the scoring came around the rim and points were harder to come by, Kalscheur’s outside shooting helped the Gophers stretch the floor. His presence also kept the Gophers steady while Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu experienced early foul trouble and had to leave the game in the first half.
For one spell, head coach Richard Pitino rolled with his three freshmen (Kalscheur, Jarvis Omersa and Oturu), along with sophomore Isaiah Washington and junior Michael Hurt while his stars sat, but Minnesota stayed focused defensively and eventually took control. Kalscheur’s third 3 gave the Gophers a 20-18 lead that they would never give up, and he hit another on Minnesota’s final possession of the first half to give them a 33-26 halftime edge.
“Gabe Kalscheur’s not even a little bit of a surprise because he takes the game seriously,” said Pitino. “He takes his approach to the game seriously, doesn’t mess around. Rarely do you see that from freshmen. He’s just got a pro mentality, so every time he shoots, nobody’s surprised when it goes in.”
Kalscheur only missed two shots on the night, finishing 6 of 8 from the field. He scored four straight points in the final two minutes to put away a plucky Utes team that had pulled within five at one point in the second half. His efficient night headlined a 52 percent shooting effort from the balanced Gophers, who had all five starters finish in double figures.
Through the first two regular season games, one of those starters has been Kalscheur. Pitino didn’t expect to have the 6-foot-4 freshman in his starting five when he signed him as part of an all-Minnesota recruiting class; not with Isaiah Washington, Dupree McBrayer and Coffey returning in the backcourt.
But Kalscheur’s professionalism in the gym and his attention to defense earned him favor and essentially relegated Washington to a bench role. Before the regular season, Pitino said Kalscheur “doesn’t look like a freshman” in the way he plays, and the DeLaSalle product validated that claim in his first major conference matchup.
“Gabe is a really good shooter, obviously,” said Murphy. “He works on it every day. He gets his reps in and extra time in the gym, so obviously we’re really confident in his ability to shoot when teams are trying to zone us.”
“I knew [about his professionalism] as soon as he got here,” said Coffey, “the way he carries himself in practice and in workouts. I knew him since high school, so I’ve always known that about him.”
Gophers freshmen have tended to have iconic breakout performances against major non-conference opponents at Williams Arena. Coffey scored 30 points in his fourth career game against St. John’s. Murphy had a 24-point, 10-rebound double-double in his seventh game against Clemson.
Monday night produced the first big game of Kalscheur’s career. For many tuning into the Gophers for the first time this season, their befuddlement over the newly-designed court was likely washed over by the sharpshooting of a freshmen who did not receive top billing in this recruiting class.
“Every day, if it’s a 3:30 practice he’s on the court at 3, like clockwork,” said Pitino. “If it’s a 10 a.m. practice on a Saturday, he’s there at 9:30 always, and he’s not going to deviate from that routine.”
- Murphy packed the stat sheet with 11 points, 17 rebounds and five assists. It was the ninth time in Murphy’s career he’s recorded 17 rebounds or more, but only the second time he’s recorded five assists — the first came six days ago in the season opener. “We’ve worked on it a lot,” said Pitino of Murphy’s passing, “because we’ve told him over and over again, guys are going to continue to trap you.”
- As a team, the Gophers had 20 assists against 11 turnovers, and seven of those turnovers came in the first half. Murphy and Oturu found a high-low connection in the second half that led to some easy buckets and a pair of Murphy’s assists. Oturu scored 11 points after halftime as Utah big man Jayce Johnson ran into foul trouble.
- Pitino wasn’t pleased with Washington’s shot selection as the sophomore went 1 of 7 in 16 minutes. “I don’t know what he was doing,” said Pitino. “He just kept shooting 3s. I said, ‘Steph Curry, please stop shooting 3s, do something else. He just wanted to make one to get over it.'”
- Monday was the last true Gophers home game until Dec. 5. They play three games in the Vancouver Showcase next week, travel to Boston College for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and play at U.S. Bank Stadium against Oklahoma State on Nov. 30 to finish out the month.