Gophers crush Florida International 89-62 to finish non-conference play

Daniel Oturu put up 21 points and 20 rebounds in the victory

Nick Jungheim

One week removed from a 20-point victory over Oklahoma State in Tulsa, OK, the Gophers closed out the 2019 calendar year and their non-conference schedule with a home game against Florida International.

Facing the school where he began his head coaching career, Richard Pitino’s current program, Minnesota (7-5, 1-1 Big Ten) proved too much for FIU (9-4). The Gophers blew out the Panthers 89-62 and will head in to Big Ten play with positive momentum on their side.

“What I like is we’ve learned from every single loss and we are playing our best basketball right now,” Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. “I think [our players] are getting better individually as well as collectively.”

Minnesota needed the first half of the opening period to figure out FlU’s press defense as the Panthers used a 10-2 run to take an early lead. Coming off a career-high 34-point performance against Oklahoma State, sophomore Gabe Kalscheur once again provided the spark that ignited the Gophers’ offense.

Kalscheur poured in three 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes to lead Minnesota with 17 points at halftime. Sophomore Daniel Oturu made his presence felt in the paint, posting a double-double before the break with 11 first-half points and 12 rebounds.

“My coaches always challenge me to play hard and rebound the ball,” Oturu told the Gopher Radio Network. “So that’s what I really try to focus on.”

During a 4:08 stretch, Kalscheur accounted for 10 of 14 unanswered Gophers points. That was the beginning of an extended 25-5 Minnesota run which gave the Gophers a 15-point lead and subsequently a 38-27 halftime advantage.

After intermission, Minnesota’s supporting cast began contributing in addition to Kalscheur and Oturu, helping the Gophers extend their advantage. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half. Carr, who entered the game shooting 63.6% from the free throw line, made 6-7 foul shots on Saturday while the Gophers made 29-30 as a team.

“Early in the season I kept telling these guys we needed more points from the foul line,” Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. “I think they’re learning.”

Overall, Minnesota outscored FIU 51-35 in the second half, cruising to an easy victory behind Oturu’s 21 points and career-high 20 rebounds. Oturu became the first Big Ten player to score at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game since 2008. Pitino said Saturday’s performance was a mark of Oturu’s maturation as a player.

“He’s very coachable, which I love,” Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. “He’s not in a hurry to speed up any process. He loves playing college basketball, representing the name on the front of the jersey and playing in front of family and friends. And he understands the game, he enjoys it, he has fun with it.”

Shooting 5-10 on 3-point attempts, Kalscheur lead all scorers with 23 points. Carr stuffed the stat sheet, bringing down 7 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists to go along with his 17 points.

With the victory, Minnesota concludes its challenging non-league schedule with a record of 6-4 against out of conference opponents. For the rest of the season, the Gophers will take on Big Ten foes, starting with a trip to West Lafayette, IN, where they will play Purdue on Thursday, Jan. 2.

“Every loss that we had early in our tough schedule has been a learning experience,” Oturu told the Gopher Radio Network. “We take each loss as a learning experience and find ways to get better from those and I think the strength of schedule we’ve had has been a tremendous help for our team. It’s prepared us for this Big Ten season.”