Although the Gophers returned to Minneapolis on Friday night, the setting was different than usual. Instead of playing at Williams arena, they took on Oklahoma State at the home of the Minnesota Vikings in the inaugural U.S. Bank Stadium Basketball classic.
Minnesota (6-1) executed much better offensively than it did in the last game, as the Gophers defeated Oklahoma State (4-3) 83-76. With the victory, the Gophers improved to 6-1 on the season and added another win to their resume.
"I thought we played really well tonight," said head coach Richard Pitino. "We're not always going to be a beautiful team. We need to just scratch and claw, play tough defense, rebound the ball, make these winning plays that we're doing."
At first, Friday's game appeared to be a recurrence of the Gophers' recent scoring woes. Oklahoma State went on a 13-0 run early in the game and led 19-10 midway through the first half. However, the Gophers found their rhythm offensively and outscored the Cowboys 35-19 in the last 10:37 before halftime.
Early in the second half, they continued to fire on all cylinders. Minnesota shot 52 percent from the field, a stark contrast from the Boston College game where the team went just 19-65 (.292). The Gophers seemed to be in command up 18, but Oklahoma State rallied back to make things interesting. A 12-0 run by the Cowboys cut Minnesota's lead to six with 6:40 remaining.
"When you build a lead, good teams are going to come back," Pitino said. "I thought we played really well. I think that was our best game yet."
The enormous stadium that will host the final four in April began to fill with nervous energy. Minnesota continued to hold Oklahoma State at arms length but the Cowboys didn't go quietly into the night. They cut the lead to four with 1:40 to go, but that was as close as they got. Minnesota converted their free throws down the stretch to hold onto the lead and close out the game.
Senior Jordan Murphy once again proved why he's one of the best forwards in college basketball. He once again posted a double-double, leading the Gophers with 24 points and 16 rebounds. He tied Jim Brewer's school record with 51 career double-doubles.
Senior Dupree McBrayer, junior Amir Coffey, freshman Gabe Kalscheur and sophomore Isaiah Washington all scored in double figures for Minnesota, with Washington leading the way with 15.
Washington in particular added a spark off the bench, leading the time with a +15 plus/minus rating. He played a vital role in fascinating setting an offensive tempo and got his teammates involved with four assists.
"He's a great passer," Coffey said of Washington. "He finds guys. He gives me a little bit of a chance to run the floor, just getting to those spots where you can be found by him."
For Coffey, the opportunity to play at U.S. Bank Stadium was special. The Hopkins, Minnesota native said he enjoyed the experience of competing on a big stage so close to home.
"It was a pretty cool venue." Coffey said. "A once-in-a-lifetime place to play, and a lot of fans came out. It was really exiting to play in front of everybody."
Minnesota will have a rapid turnaround before its next game. The Gophers take on Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday evening to begin Big Ten play.
"It's huge with momentum," Murphy said about the impending conference games. "Being 6-1 and obviously coming off a win going into Sunday. We definitely just have to pay attention to the scouting report and the game plan coaches put out for us, and just be ready."