Fresh off of a 82-57 victory over Central Michigan on Thursday, the Gophers returned to action at The Barn against North Dakota on Sunday. Leaning on a trio of sophomores, Minnesota secured their second victory in four days.
The Gophers improved to 3-3 on the young season with a workmanlike 79-56 victory. North Dakota (1-4) could not muster enough offensive firepower to keep up with Minnesota, which finished with five players scoring double figures.
"That's the system," head coach Richard Pitino said. "We're not a 'one guy takes 30 shots' type of team, that's not us. We want balance. I want to be able to look at that box score and see five guys taking nine to 10 shots each. I want to see guys taking great shots. The way that our system is run, you're going to get good looks."
Despite North Dakota opening the game with five points on their first three trips down the court, the Gophers answered with a 10-0 run. All 10 of those points came in the paint, even though sophomore Daniel Oturu watched most of the first half from the bench after picking up two quick personal fouls.
"I think it was better for Dan and better for us," said senior Alihan Demir. "We scored a lot so we were able to take a little bit of pressure off him and we can get him better looks. They can't double him as much as long as we can score like that."
Without their center on the floor, the Gophers' defense remained stout as they didn't allow a North Dakota field goal over a 8:29 stretch. Oturu was limited to five minutes in the first half.
Demir and sophomore Jarvis Omersa made up for Oturu's absence in the front court during the first half. Demir scored nine points in the opening period while Omersa added seven points and eight rebounds. Sophomore Gabe Kalscheur made 6-7 field goal attempts before halftime, leading Minnesota with 13 points at intermission.
"Us guards know we have to attack a lot more," Kalscheur said. "If they're going to come out at us at the 3-point line, we know we can attack."
Both sides traded buckets back and forth over the first four minutes of the second half. Another strong defensive series from Minnesota held the Fighting Hawks scoreless for a 3:52 stretch, during which Minnesota extended its lead to 17 points. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr then drilled his first two 3-point shot attempts on consecutive possessions, the second one making the score 55-36.
A well-rested Oturu provided a spark for Minnesota after halftime, totaling 11 points and five rebounds in the second period. The physical play down-low of Oturu and Minnesota's forwards helped the Gophers to a 42-24 advantage on points in the paint on Sunday.
"Everything that we do is establishing the inside and then going back out," Pitino said. "They have to make a decision and when you have a player like Daniel, who is a really good player, they are going to have to decide what they have to do."
North Dakota never scored consecutive baskets over the final six minutes, allowing Minnesota to stretch its lead to a comfortable margin. Senior Marlon Stewart (14), sophomore Filip Rebraca (10), senior Kienan Walter (eight) and redshirt freshman De'sean Allen-Eikens (12) combined for 44 of North Dakota's 56 points.
Five Gophers scored in double-digits, including the Minnesota natives Kalscheur (18), Oturu (15) and Omersa (11). Omersa's 11 points and nine rebounds were both career-highs.
"He had a great game," Kalscheur said of Omersa. "His effort day-in and day-out is just great. He's always a hype man on the bench but he also plays with a bunch of effort in practice. He just competes, he's a competitor."
Senior Alihan Demir and Carr scored 11 and 10 points respectively. Redshirt junior Payton Willis also contributed on both ends of the floor, making 3-5 3-point shot attempts and bringing down seven rebounds.
Minnesota returns to action on Friday, playing the third of four straight home games against DePaul. The 6-0 Blue Demons have already defeated Iowa this season and will offer a step-up in competition for the Gophers, who will look to win their third-straight game.