It may have been a non-conference game in December, but Tuesday night Minnesota got a tough test against North Florida. The Ospreys may not have had the same size or speed as the Gophers, but they made clutch shots and made enough hustle plays to keep the game within reach.
Minnesota (9-2) never held a lead larger than eight points until the game's final point, but fended off the upset bid, 80-71 in a hard-fought victory. It seemed that every time the Gophers began to gain momentum, North Florida (4-6) came right back.
"North Florida is not a bad team by any stretch of the imagination," said senior Jordan Murphy. "We couldn't really look past them. I think we underestimated them just a tiny bit and that reflected in the score, but I'm just glad we got the win."
Ultimately, strong play in the paint was the difference for Minnesota. The Gophers capitalized on their size advantage to bring down 23 offensive rebounds.
Murphy and freshman Daniel Oturu had a strong night rebounding and scoring down-low. They both had double-doubles, the first time this season multiple Gophers accomplished that feat in the same game. Murphy had 20 points and 18 rebounds, while Oturu had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
"Double-double was great," said head coach Richard Pitino of Oturu. "He's just got to get fundamentally more sound, but freshmen do that. I think the talent's there, which is great, and the willingness to learn and be coached is also there."
Offensively, the Gophers were at their best when they played up-tempo and ran the floor. They outscored North Florida 19-6 on fast-break points.
Redshirt senior Brock Stull started in place of senior Dupree McBrayer, who wasn't with the team in order to attend his mother's funeral in New York. However, it was sophomore Isaiah Washington who provided a spark for Minnesota off the bench. Along with Murphy and Oturu, he totaled a double-double with 14 points and a career-high 13 assists.
"I had big shoes to fill in tonight," Washington said. "Me and my teammates, we had a good bond. Everybody was in the right spots, I got them the ball and we had a good game."
Despite strong individual performances, the Gophers didn't widen the lead, thanks in part to a decided disadvantage in three-point shooting. North Florida made eight three-point shots while Minnesota went 1-15 (.067). Freshman Gabe Kalscheur, who came into the game shooting 49 percent from three went 0-8 on the night and didn't make a field goal.
"I thought Gabe was getting good looks," Pitino said. "It's just one of those nights where a good shooter isn't making shots and that happens. He just has to keep fighting through it."
Minnesota will have a 10-day break so players can focus on their final exams. Their next game will come on December 21 at Williams Arena against North Carolina A&T.
"We've had a tough schedule," Pitino said. "We've played a lot of difficult teams, and to be sitting at 9-2 is pretty good. But we're not where we need to be."