Walker powers Gophers past Retrievers

Redshirt senior center Mo Walker led the Gophers with 15 points.

Mo Walker pushes towards the hoop at Williams Arena against UMBC on Saturday evening.

Liam James Doyle

Mo Walker pushes towards the hoop at Williams Arena against UMBC on Saturday evening.

Ben Gotz

The Gophers’ defense gave the team plenty of chances Saturday night, but its offense didn’t always capitalize.

The Gophers had a poor shooting night, which allowed Maryland-Baltimore County to stay close for a large portion of the game.

A late run helped the Gophers (3-1) pull away, though, and they ended up with a 69-51 victory.

At first, it looked like the Retrievers wouldn’t be able to handle the Gophers’ defensive pressure, as they turned the ball over on their first three possessions.

But the Retrievers responded by hitting their first five shots and drawing plenty of fouls to give themselves extra opportunities.

The Gophers’ pressure was relentless, though, forcing 23 total turnovers on the night, which led to 27 points.

“It’s a totally different team when we bring the pressure defensively,” senior guard Andre Hollins said. “I think we’ll get better at it, just dogging the guards, making them tired.”

The Gophers had to shuffle their own guards throughout the game because Hollins got in foul trouble and left the game midway through the first half.

But the team stayed productive with backup guards Nate Mason and Daquein McNeil in the game, which Hollins said speaks to the team’s backcourt depth.

“We have great backups coming in — they’re no drop-offs,” Hollins said.

Behind that depth, the Gophers went back to the locker room with a 32-26 lead at halftime.

The team led by six but was only 14-for-36 from the field, and head coach Richard Pitino stressed to his players during the break that they needed to go inside offensively.

That emphasis led to a big night for redshirt senior Mo Walker, who led the team with 15 points.

Behind Walker, the Gophers outscored UMBC 40-14 in the paint.

“He’s an efficient player,” Pitino said. “We didn’t get him enough touches in the first half.”

The Retrievers continued to stick close to the Gophers, but as the second half wore on, the Gophers began to pull away.

An 18-4 run that started midway through the second half allowed the Gophers to stretch their lead to double digits, sealing their third victory in a five-day period.

“It was tough playing three games in a week like that,” Walker said. “But we fought through it.”

Pitino said Saturday’s game was a lesson for some of the team’s new players on how to overcome adversity.

“We needed to play a game where not everything was going our way,” Pitino said. “That was a good experience for us.”

The game also showed some weaknesses the Gophers will have to improve before their level of competition gets tougher.

The Gophers shot only 50 percent from the free-throw line, which Pitino described as “killer.”

He said the team also needed to work on keeping up the defensive intensity without players like Hollins receiving attention from the referees.

“We’ve got to be able to pressure without fouling,” Pitino said. “Our defense has got to be our calling card.”