Mason and Murphy return to form

The two have helped the Gophers recover from a six-game losing streak.

Gophers forward Jordan Murphy moves the ball around the Clemson Tigers in Williams Arena on Nov. 11.

Daily File Photo

Gophers forward Jordan Murphy moves the ball around the Clemson Tigers in Williams Arena on Nov. 11.

Jack White

The Gophers knew they needed to rely on two of their leading scorers from last season – guard Nate Mason and power forward Jordan Murphy – to have success this year.

Those two players brought Minnesota out of its six-game losing streak.

Mason has scored double-digit points three times during Minnesota’s three-game winning streak. Murphy has two double-doubles during the stretch.

“It’s just been a mentality switch [for Murphy], and it’s been blatantly obvious,” said head coach Richard Pitino. “[Mason is] a warrior.”

Murphy scored single-digit totals in six consecutive games this season. Five of those six games came during Minnesota’s six game losing streak.

Murphy amassed double-digit figures the last two games, scoring 17 points and 25 points respectively. He earned Big Ten Co-Player of the Week for his efforts in the last two outings, marking the first time in his collegiate career he has won the award.

The junior said he has not been trying to score.

“I just put my mind on rebounding and the other stuff just comes following,” Murphy said. “I try not to get too high on myself.”

Murphy has also raised his totals in rebounding lately. The power forward has grabbed more than 10 boards the last two games, including 19 rebounds against Iowa.

Murphy also had a season-high in blocks two games ago against Iowa, rejecting four shots during the game.

“You need to know what your identity is as a basketball player,” Pitino said. “You’re gonna get most of your baskets, play behind the defense.”

For Mason, shooting was a struggle for him during the Gophers’ losing streak. The guard shot worse than 40 percent from the field in four consecutive games, all coming during the Gophers’ losing streak. The junior has shot better than 40 percent two of the last three games. He has also gone 9-10 from the line during that stretch.

Mason leads the team in steals and was a part of the effort that held Rutgers to 21.4 percent from behind the arc.

Mason said the confidence during the win streak has come from defense.

“The last few games, we’ve really been locking in and playing defense, and it pays off,” Mason said.

The team’s 18 wins is tied for the most wins Mason has had in his collegiate career so far, and the team still has six games left in the regular season.

Mason was one of Pitino’s first recruits when the head coach arrived at Minnesota. The guard has played under Pitino for three seasons.

“He was playing good basketball at the end of the year [last year], and then we had to suspend those guys,” Pitino said. “He’s starting to have great confidence; he’s becoming a better leader.”

Minnesota (18-7, 6-6 Big Ten) plays Indiana (15-11, 5-8) on Feb. 15. The Gophers lost to the Hoosiers twice last year. Mason had 21 points last season against the Hoosiers; Murphy scored single-digit totals in both outings.

“You need to rely heavily on the older guys,” Pitino said. “You need leadership when times are tough.”