Gophers men’s basketball edge Vanderbilt in close game

Power forward Jordan Murphy scored the most points for the Gophers with 16.

Gophers guard Amir Coffey handles the ball during Minnesotas game against Southern Illinois at Williams Arena on Nov. 26, 2016. The Gophers won 57-45.

Maddy Fox

Gophers guard Amir Coffey handles the ball during Minnesota’s game against Southern Illinois at Williams Arena on Nov. 26, 2016. The Gophers won 57-45.

by Jack White

Minnesota went into halftime against Vanderbilt down 25-24, and the team did something about the deficit right away.

Minnesota (7-1) opened up the second half with a 15-2 run, leading to a 56-52 victory over Vanderbilt (4-4) Saturday at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“Good win, found a way to grind it out from a defensive standpoint,” head coach Richard Pitino told reporters. “I’m not sure we would have done that last year, so I’m really proud of our guys.”

The back-and-forth game featured nine lead changes and five times where the score was tied. Each team led by as many as 12 points in the game.

Guard Amir Coffey made two consecutive baskets on offense, and center Reggie Lynch had two consecutive blocks on defense with less than two minutes to go. The series of plays helped the Gophers take a two-point lead late in the game.

Power forward Jordan Murphy made it a two-possession game when he made a layup in the paint. He then rebounded the ball and drew a foul on the other side of the court to head to the line. He missed the one-on-one opportunity, but the game was already out of reach for the Commodores.

Murphy was the game’s leading scorer with 16 points. He completed the double-double performance with 14 rebounds.

“I just wanted to win, honestly,” Murphy told reporters. “This was one of my favorite games playing in last year, so this was pretty special.”

Murphy came down with an alley-oop pass before making a reverse go-ahead layup in the first half. The play helped the Gophers lead 24-23 towards the end of the first half.

“[Murphy] made some big buckets when we needed to,” Pitino said.

Vanderbilt shot 30.2 percent from field-goal range in the game. The Commodores also had 12 turnovers to the Gophers’ nine.

“We dedicated ourselves to defense this year, and you can see it,” guard Nate Mason said. “I felt like we controlled the glass and played great defense.”

Vanderbilt started the game off with a 9-0 run. The Gophers shot 0-7 from field-goal range during the run.

Minnesota came back with a run of its own in the first half. The Gophers went on a 13-0 run to take the lead 15-14.

“It was a game of runs,” Pitino said.“It was a fun game from that standpoint, and we were fortunate to come out on top.”

Vanderbilt forwards Jeff Roberson and Luke Kornet tied for first in scoring among the Commodores with 12 points each. Roberson amassed a game-high 16 rebounds for the double-double performance.

Kornet hit a 3-pointer to help Vanderbilt get ahead 48-45 with 7:06 left in the second half.

Minnesota drew within two points in the second when guard Dupree McBrayer gave an alley-oop pass to Coffey in transition. McBrayer’s pass was one of his six assists on the day.

The Gophers extended the lead to six points early in the second half when Mason hit a 3-pointer. The shot was Mason’s second from behind the arc. He had eight points and five assists on the day.

Minnesota bounced back from its first loss of the season with its victory over Vanderbilt. The Gophers head home to play the New Jersey Institute of Technology in their next game.

“You try like heck to make sure one loss doesn’t become two,” Pitino said. “We made winning plays.”