With an 11:30 a.m. Saturday start against a lower-tier Big Ten opponent, the Golden Gophers needed to generate early energy against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Hitting three 3-point shots to start the game did the trick as Minnesota never trailed en route to a 88-70 win.
Here were the main takeaways:
- Amir Coffey is playing the best basketball of his career. Every successive game, Coffey has a stretch that seems like the best of his career. First, it was the second half against Nebraska. Then it was the first half against Wisconsin. Saturday’s second half was another feather in Coffey’s cap as he scored 21 points on 7 of 8 shooting with two assists. His assortment of contorting finishes and mid-range jumpers off the dribble made him nearly unguardable. He finished with a game-high 29 points.
- Minnesota continues to be its best when it runs the floor. The Gophers’ KenPom tempo ranking (measuring possessions per 40 minutes) is 150th in the nation. But Saturday the Gophers were dead-set on pushing the basketball, a sound strategy against a poor-shooting Rutgers team that surrendered many long rebounds. Minnesota outscored the Scarlet Knights 24-19 on the fast break, including a handful of transition 3s. It was a perfect game for Isaiah Washington, who dealt five assists off the bench, many of them in transition where Washington is at his best. He also hit two 3s in the second half but was ejected with 3:48 to go when he tossed the ball at the head of a Rutgers player.
The game’s defining sequence came with about eight minutes remaining in the game. Coffey capitalized on a 2-on-1 with a gravity-defying right-handed dunk. Washington followed up with his patented “Jelly” layup off a block on the defensive end. Then Coffey earned two foul shots as he got knocked down going up for another dunk following another block. Minnesota extended its lead from 10 to 20 in a matter of moments thanks to several fast-break opportunities.
- The Gophers handled the zone much better. Amir Coffey said on Friday that the Gophers didn’t move enough without the ball when Maryland bottled them up with their 2-3 zone in Tuesday’s loss. Looking for a spark, the Scarlet Knights switched to zone midway through the first half, but the Gophers off-ball activity stimulated more ball movement in the offense to put Rutgers back in man-to-man. Their 6-of-11 3-point shooting in the first half didn’t hurt.
- Dupree McBrayer played his most complete Big Ten game. After mourning the loss of his mother earlier in the season, McBrayer has delivered some big moments late in conference games: a clutch 3 in a comeback win against Nebraska and a pair of steals and layups to help beat Wisconsin. Saturday might have been his best game from start to finish as he scored 15 points on 4 of 6 3-point shooting with a career-high 10 assists.
- The free-throw shooting returned to normal. The Gophers entered play 288th in free-throw shooting after Tuesday’s 9 of 23 abomination. They didn’t hesitate attacking the bigger Scarlet Knights and made 20 of 25 shots from the foul line. Jordan Murphy went 9 of 11 himself as he scored 15 points and grabbed 16 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the year.
The Gophers visit Illinois (4-12, 0-5) at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
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