Gophers win big at Pitino’s alma mater

Jordan Murphy had a team-leading 23 points in the victory over Providence.

Jack Warrick

Minnesota won its first road game by a big margin, but the final score was not characteristic of how close the game looked Monday night.

With just 11:26 to play, Providence had the lead at 55-54. Then Gophers guard Nate Mason hit his two free throws, took the lead, and the Gophers started playing their best basketball.

The No. 15 Gophers (2-0) beat the Providence Friars (1-1) 86-74 on Monday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Head coach Richard Pitino said he was pleased with his team’s win over his alma mater.

“It’s not easy to come into this environment and be a well-coached team, a tough team,” Pitino told reporters. “And our guys did that.”

Gophers forward Jordan Murphy, named Big Ten player of the week on Monday for his career-high 35 points against USC Upstate, had another team-leading performance with 23 points and 14 rebounds in the dismantling of the Friars on Monday. Murphy’s second-half performance helped the Gophers pull away from the Friars after close play for the majority of the game, and he had 17 points in the second half alone.

“It felt like just a big win, I mean, it was a really tough environment,” Murphy told reporters. “It felt like we were already in conference. It was a really tough team, a really hard place to play.”

Friars’ head coach Ed Cooley’s team went 20-13 overall last year, earning a NCAA playoff berth with the winning regular season performance. In the preseason, the Friars were projected to take third in the Big East conference.

“I got a lot of respect for what Cooley does, and his program,” Pitino told reporters. “To get out of here with a win was terrific.”

By the end of the first half, the Friars came back from the 10-point deficit, and took a 39-36 lead in the game.

In the second half, Minnesota clicked. It shot 60.7 percent on the floor, and hit 4-7 three-pointers. The Gophers scored 50 of their 87 points in the second frame of play. 

Mason had 17 points, which ranked second among Gophers players, after just an 11 point game last game. Freshman guard IsaiahWashington had eight points on the night, an improvement from shooting 1-9 from the floor last game.

In Pitino’s return to his alma mater, the crowd at Dunkin’ Donuts Arena wasn’t very welcoming to him. They chanted “who’s your daddy?” in reference to Pitino’s father, Rick Pitino, getting fired from Louisville earlier in the year.

“What the hell is that, I’m a graduate,” Pitino said.

Pitino won’t need to deal with the hecklers as the Gophers will head home to play at Williams Arena on Wednesday against the Niagara Purple Eagles, a team that went 10-23 a season ago.