On an afternoon when the Golden Gophers basketball team turned heads with an uncharacteristically marvelous performance from beyond the arc, Jordan Murphy kept pounding away down low, doing what he’s done for the better part of the last four seasons.
His team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds marked his 63rd collegiate double-double and 18th of the season. With just five regular season games remaining in his career — and likely a handful of postseason contests — Murphy’s eventual place in Gophers history is coming into clearer focus.
Even though Saturday’s 84-63 win over Indiana was likely not the last All-Conference-type performance from Murphy, it got his head coach lamenting the fact that he can’t have his power forward back after this season.
“We’re going to miss him,” said Richard Pitino of the senior. “He’s a really, really good player. He’s an understated kid, so he probably doesn’t get the respect that he deserves.”
If the Gophers can find a way to play in three postseason games (including the Big Ten Tournament), Murphy only needs to average 16 points per game to hit 1,800, tying Willie Burton for second on the program’s scoring list. He’s going to finish his career as the Gophers all-time leading rebounder and second all-time in the Big Ten, behind only Jerry Lucas, whose college career started in the 1950s.
Murphy’s 17-game double-double streak to start last year put him in the same breath as Tim Duncan, and his double-double artistry will hold up as some of the best work the Big Ten has ever seen. The All-Conference center Ethan Happ with Wisconsin? He’s 15 double-doubles shy of Murphy for his career. How about All-American Draymond Green in his days at Michigan State? He had just 40 compared to Murphy’s 63.
Since Basketball Reference started collecting all college game logs in 2010, only one major-conference player has more career double-doubles than Murphy: Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado from 2015-18 with 72.
“He plays really low to the ground, and he’s very physical,” said freshman Daniel Oturu. “That part of the game is really what stands out to me.”
Murphy is a atypical modern big man who has thrived in the paint rather than extending his game outside. The senior is likely going to attempt a career low in 3s this season, but why bother when you’re averaging almost 15 points per game, leading your team in free-throw attempts and are the nation’s 13th-best offensive rebounder?
“He had like a drop-step dunk, and everybody just kind of sat there,” said Pitino. “I’m talking about the fans. I’m like, ‘Do you realize how hard that is to do?’ But it was amazing what he did.”
Against Indiana, Murphy had a period in the first half where he scored 13 of 19 Gophers points on a series of tough hook shots, dunks and three-point-play opportunities to help increase Minnesota’s lead to double figures. Hoosiers big man De’Ron Davis said after the game that Indiana formulated their gameplan around Murphy, yet Minnesota’s most unstoppable player still tied his highest point total in a Big Ten game this season.
“He’s got unbelievable hands and strength for his size to do what he’s been able to do in this league,” said Indiana coach Archie Miller, who had a front-row seat for Murphy’s first-half dominance. “He can ward you off, he can drive the ball and knock you off balance. He misses his own shot, he taps his own shot in. He’s got tremendous hands, the balls that he gets under the basket at times. I just think, physically, I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy that strong who’s just able to hold ground and do what he wants to do with not losing balance and what not.”
Murphy has given Big Ten coaches fits for four years now, as Miller lamented after the game. There aren’t many players that produce as consistently as Murphy who end up staying in college all four years. Listed at 6-foot-6 — and an extra few inches coming from his hairstyle — Murphy would have a tough time finding a niche in the NBA, where players of all sizes are expected to shoot 3s and power forwards could match his agility.
But to Murphy’s credit, he has never tried to be something he wasn’t for Minnesota.
“He has great will. Great heart. Great durability, knock on wood,” said Pitino. “He’s been really, really reliable. … A lot of basketball players have identity crises. He does not. He knows what he’s good at, and he sticks to it.”
Murphy normalized 15-rebound games. He has more dunks in his career than all Gophers teammates combined. And he’s played in 123 out of 123 possible contests.
Though his game doesn’t have flash, it still holds substance. While he has yet to lead the Gophers on any postseason runs, he has never held them back. Murphy deserves to be recognized as one of the great Gophers forwards in program history.
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