Forward Jordan Murphy left the court to the tune of a standing ovation from the crowd of Williams Arena in the first game of the regular season.
With a career-high 35 points, Murphy proved pivotal in the Gophers' (1-0) 92-77 win over the USC Upstate Spartans (0-1) at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Friday.
“We got the win, it was definitely not pretty,” said head coach Richard Pitino after the game. “But [Murphy] was terrific, obviously.”
Murphy’s 35 points in Friday’s game were a career high, beating out his previous best of 25 points at Iowa last season. He made a difference on the defensive side of the ball as well, with 15 rebounds to show for it.
“I just want to do whatever is needed to win, honestly,” Murphy said. “Just from a rebounding and scoring aspect, touches aren’t really a big thing for me. So I mean if they find me, they find me. If they don’t, I’m just going to be there to clean it all up at the end of the day.”
Though Murphy’s performance Friday night was one to remember for Gophers basketball, the majority of the first half of the game was something Gophers fans would like to forget.
With 4:46 remaining in the first half, the Spartans top scorer of the night, Malik Moore, hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 31-31. Moore finished with 23 points. At 3:37 in the first, with the score at 31-31, USC Upstate was shooting 7-15 in three-point shots compared to 2-8 for Minnesota.
“I think a lot of it had to do with what they were running,” Pitino said. “[They were] kind of spreading us out, their [center] could shoot... So it wasn’t great, that’s evident.”
The Gophers started making things happen at the end of the first half. They went on a 12-2 scoring run in the last 2:30, ending with a buzzer-beater layup by Murphy to give the Gophers a 10-point, 43-33 lead going into halftime.
The points came in the paint primarily and the Gophers only hit nine three-point baskets the whole game. Gophers starting center Reggie Lynch attributed the down-low focus to the height differences between the two teams.
“Well if a team is going to be small and try to beat us that way, then you give up points in the paint, which is what we exploited today,” Lynch said.
Isaiah Washington, a freshman known for his special layup he calls a "jelly," had high expectations going into the first regular season game.
However, he struggled shooting, going 1-9 in field goals, and 1-7 from behind the three-point line. The jelly move was nowhere to be found on Friday.
“[Washington’s performance] wasn’t great,” Pitino said. "I think he hasn’t seen a zone like that before. We don’t play a matchup zone so he hasn’t really gone against one."
Up next on the Gophers schedule is Providence College on Monday. Pitino graduated from Providence in 2005 and the Gophers last played the team in 1993 during the NCAA National Invitational Tournament (NIT). Minnesota won the game 76-70.
“I think it will really help us mature down the stretch. I mean it is really good for our young guys,” Murphy said. “I think it’s just a really good test early on.”