Monday, January 2, 2017

Mason, Gophers Thrive Under Pressure In Upset Over Purdue

They could have come out flat days after letting a win slip away in overtime against Michigan State.

They could have lost confidence on New Year's Day as Purdue erased an early 13 point deficit and took a second half lead.

They could have surrendered when both Jordan Murphy and Bakary Konate fouled out with 4 minutes left in the game.

And they could have wilted in overtime.

Instead, the Gophers responded. Time and again. In doing so, the Gophers earned what national pundits are calling Richard Pitino's marquee win as head man at Minnesota in a 91-82 overtime win over Purdue at raucous Mackey Arena.

Winning on the road in the Big Ten is no easy task. But the Gophers didn't just win on the road Sunday, they beat a Boilermakers team with Big Ten title hopes. And there was nothing random or fluky about the win.

Nate Mason was brilliant.

31 points. 11 assists. 6 rebounds. 2 steals. 11-18 from the field. Only 1 turnover in 38 minutes.

31 and 11. Apparently, the first Gophers player in history to drop 30-plus and record 10-plus assists. Think about that. Not Bobby Jackson. Not Ariel McDonald. Not Mychal Thompson or Flip Saunders. Not Sam Jacobsen. Not Al Nolen.

Let it settle in.

Mason's great game almost wasn't enough. Purdue's Caleb Swanigan looked every bit the part of a dominant Big Ten big man. Swanigan had 28 points and 22 rebounds. And as the game entered its final stretches, Swanigan's dominance forced both Murphy and Konate to the sidelines with five fouls.

That meant the Gophers would have to prevail in overtime with freshman Eric Curry playing alongside Reggie Lynch. Curry stepped up in a huge way. He was active defensively and on the  and , scored 7 points, including a clutch three pointer. Curry finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds in his first Big Ten road game.

The Gophers had survived all afternoon without much bench production. Heading into overtime, the Gophers had a whopping 5 points from its bench. Curry alone had 7 in overtime.

Other notes from Minnesota's upset over Purdue:
    • Lynch's interior presence, while overshadowed by the monster games from Mason and Swanigan, continues to be excellent. 10 points. 6 rebounds. 5 blocks.
    • 17 fouls from Minnesota's frontcourt against Purdue's Swanigan and Haas. 14 fouls from Minnesota's frontcourt earlier in the week against Michigan State. Some of the foul trouble is understandable given the competition. But at least a handful of the fouls for Minnesota's bigs have come 90 feet from the basket. And others have been unnecessary. The Gophers need to keep their bigs out of foul trouble moving forward.
    • Amir Coffey was quiet most of the afternoon against Purdue. He finished with 8 points, including 2-2 from three, one of which came at a crucial moment down the stretch.
    • Bakary Knoate fouled out. He didn't score. He had three rebounds. Not a sexy box score. But Konate's minutes were solid and the Gophers needed all 20 of them to stay stout enough against Purdue's interior.
    • An active defense helped push the Gophers' to victory. The Gophers had 8 blocks. Pudue 0. The Gophers had 9 steals. Purdue had 1. Purdue had 14 turnovers. Minnesota had 7. More times than not, that type of discrepancy will lead to victories.
Finally, Dupree McBrayer gets the highlight of the day:

Up next, the Gophers head to 12-3 Northwestern. These aren't your father's Wildcats. They're 1-1 in the Big Ten and Coach Chris Collins has the program turned in a positive direction chasing its first NCAA Tournament.