Tuesday was a night for Jordan Murphy. The senior might be the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ second all-time leading scorer by the end of this season, and his head coach, Richard Pitino, is already lobbying for his jersey to hang in the rafters.
It was a night for Dupree McBrayer. The senior coped with the loss of his mother in December and powered through tragedy to start 29 games this season and score his 1,000th point.
There were even pre-game whispers that it could be a night where senior Jarvis Johnson saw the floor. A heart condition had kept him on the sideline for the duration of his career, but the Minneapolis native warmed up with the team and was announced as the “sixth man” during pre-game introductions.
Yet with all those storylines in play, the unlikeliest senior nabbed the spotlight.
It began earlier in the week when Eric Curry injured his right foot in practice, elevating Norwegian big man Matz Stockman in the Gophers’ rotation.
Some background if you’re unfamiliar: Stockman transferred to Minnesota from Louisville, where he played under Rick Pitino. He then attempted to leave for California over the summer as a grad transfer but ran into academic roadblocks during the process and circled back to the Gophers for his final season.
Since Jan. 1, he’d averaged just six minutes per game, usually filling in when other bigs got in foul trouble. His role wasn’t flashy, but his 7-foot-6 wingspan was enough to affect opponents’ shots in the paint. “With shoes I’m 7-foot,” he confirmed after the game. “I was recruited at 7-2.”
The stars aligned on Tuesday, however, setting up The Matz Stockman Game — yes, it deserves capitalization.
Against No. 11 Purdue, in a must-win contest, the third-string center played a career-high 24 minutes and registered a career-high six rebounds, a career-high seven blocks and one point off a career high in points with nine.
“For somebody to come in like that and play and get nine and six and seven blocks, he could’ve been the difference,” said Purdue coach Matt Painter. “For a guy that doesn’t play very much, you have to give him credit. He definitely gave them a spark.”
His two points, three blocks and four rebounds in eight first-half minutes earned him hearty applause as he played a big role in shutting down 7-foot-3 giant Matt Haarms in the post. “I played against a guy in Spain that was pretty similar to him,” said Stockman, “7-3 and skinny.”
He also acted as a deterrent for All-Big Ten guard Carsen Edwards, who wound up with an inefficient 22 points on 7-of-31 shooting.
Most nights, Stockman’s work would be done. But with freshman Daniel Oturu struggling, Stockman was given 16 minutes in a tense second half, playing all but 1 minute, 25 seconds from the time he was inserted with 17:26 remaining in the game.
“I kept him in because he was playing really well,” said Pitino “That’s what you need. You need a bench. You need guys to be able to step up, and Matz did that. He’s a terrific kid.”
With just over 15 minutes left in the game and the crowd reaching a fever pitch with the Gophers up 10, Stockman began crafting his legend with an open-court steal on the perimeter. He nearly ran the floor for a breakaway dunk, but a foul sent him to the free throw line for an even louder tribute. Chants of ‘M-V-P! M-V-P!’ arose from the student section.
“I was surprised,” said Stockman of the chants. “I just felt like we needed to get this win tonight, and I just wanted to play with as much energy as I could and try to stay focused throughout the whole game.”
Stockman was removed from the game with Minnesota leading 54-50. Bad move. The Boilermakers promptly tied it up at 54, and Stockman was reinserted — and took over.
The Norway native proceeded to:
- Block Edwards on a drive to the rim.
- Draw a flagrant foul under the basket. Free throw.
- Assist on Gabe Kalscheur’s 3-pointer.
- Get loose under the basket for a dunk off a Murphy feed.
- Block Edwards again.
- Send a pinpoint outlet pass to Amir Coffey for a fast break layup.
It was a game-defining 10-1 run once Stockman came back on the floor.
“I felt pretty tired towards the end right there, but that dunk and pass from Murph was great,” said Stockman, “and it just got me refueled.”
The Gophers won 73-69, and the M-V-P chants persisted when Stockman took the mic after the game in front of a delirious assembly.
The Gophers may be headed to the NCAA Tournament thanks to their upset win. Even if they fail to win a postseason game, the Gophers senior class can feel comfortable in their send-off. In 20 years they can reminisce: ‘Hey, remember that time Matz went off?’
“It’s a great feeling as a coach to see guys that you bring here get their due,” said Pitino. “They work hard, Matz works hard, doesn’t ever complain, really likes it here, and that means a lot to me. To be able to bring guys here who stay for four years like Dupree and Jordan and Jarvis and graduate and to have that feeling. And to Brock and to Matz to taste that, that’s awesome for those guys. So it’s very, very gratifying and rewarding for a coach.”