Coming off a season in which they won their first NCAA Tournament game since 2013, the Gophers men's basketball team entered Monday's season-opening exhibition game with a roster featuring seven newcomers.
Minnesota took care of business in the exhibition contest, defeating Southwest Minnesota State 73-48. Coming into the 2019-20 season, head coach Richard Pitino indicated that the Gophers' offense will have a new feel, prioritizing 3-point shooting after making 31.7% of their shots from beyond the arc last year. On Monday, Minnesota attempted 21 threes, knocking down eight.
"We were very vanilla offensively," Pitino said. "We have such a tough schedule early, we didn't really run anything. So, the movement may not have been as great as before but I think we are going to shoot a lot of threes. I think we're a pretty good shooting team."
Redshirt junior Payton Willis, a transfer from Vanderbilt who sat out last season due to NCAA rules, led the charge from 3-point range taking seven shots from downtown, making three. Willis got the start in the back court alongside redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr, who also didn't play last season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Willis led Minnesota with 14 points while Carr scored 12. Both players had six assists.
"It felt great to be back out there," Willis said. "I think it's been like 19 months, so it was just exciting to get back out there in front of the fans."
Alihan Demir, a graduate transfer from Drexel, was the third new starter for the Gophers, playing 17 minutes and finishing with three points and three rebounds. Sophomores Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur were fixtures in the lineup last season, combining for 66 starts. Unsurprisingly, they were on the court for the opening tip Monday night. Oturu posted a double-double with 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.
"It always feels good to be able to score a couple buckets down low," Oturu said. "I'm just trying to stay aggressive."
Three of Minnesota's four freshmen made their debut at The Barn: Tre' Williams, Brian Greenlee and Sam Freeman. Williams was the first of the group off the bench and led the bunch in playing time with 23 minutes, scoring nine points and pulling down six rebounds. The fourth freshman, Isaiah Ihnen, did not play due to a wrist injury.
"He's getting better, hopeful for the first game," Pitino said of Ihnen's injury. "Other than that I don't really know. I don't think it's anything extremely serious."
Senior Michael Hurt and sophomore Jarvis Omersa, who will be important components to Minnesota's front court depth this season, also saw plenty of action. Hurt and Omersa both scored three points in 20 and 13 minutes respectively.
Defense appeared to be Minnesota's strength throughout the evening. Southwest Minnesota State turned the ball over 22 times, 15 of which came in the first half. Minnesota finished the game with 11 steals.
"Good deflections, our goal was 30 plus, we hit that goal," Pitino said. "Our hands were very, very active. I do think the steals part was really good."
With the start of the regular season right around the corner, Minnesota will have until Tuesday to prepare for Division I competition. The Gophers host Cleveland State on Nov. 5 to open the new campaign.