Gophers get ‘wake-up call’ as they edge out Drake

Forward Jordan Murphy led the Gophers with 24 points and 18 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Amir Coffey dribbles toward the hoop during the game against Drake on Monday, Dec. 11 at Williams Arena. The Gophers won 68-67. 

Ellen Schmidt

Sophomore guard Amir Coffey dribbles toward the hoop during the game against Drake on Monday, Dec. 11 at Williams Arena. The Gophers won 68-67. 

Jack Warrick

Coming off a two-game road stretch where the Gophers lost both games by more than 10 points, the team could use an easy home win against Drake.

Instead, they trailed throughout the game, only taking the lead in the final nine minutes and squeaking by with a 68-67 one-point victory Monday night at Williams Arena.

“It was a great wake-up call for us,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “We needed it as painful as it was. It was like going to the dentist. But we needed that, and we found a way to win, and it wasn’t great.”

The Gophers (9-3, 1-1 Big Ten) trailed the Bulldogs (5-5) throughout the game. Drake kept it close until the clock hit zero and the Bulldogs’ Graham Woodward hit a three-point bucket to give the Gophers a too-close-for-comfort win.

Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy provided the spark for an otherwise lackluster team performance. Murphy scored 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half alone to help out. His team lagged on offense and shot just 30 percent in the first. 

“With 24 [points] and 18 [rebounds], he just got it done the old fashioned way,” Pitino said.

Murphy scored 14 more points after the break, finishing with 24 points on the night with a season-high 18 rebounds. He now has 12 double-doubles in as many games played.

Though he was at the top on the stat sheet, Murphy said he could still work on being a better leader.

“I just think that I need to stay vocal,” Murphy said. “I definitely think that there were times where I just needed to be vocal more and, definitely, in times that we were down or times they were making a run and we needed to answer back.”

Murphy was pivotal in the final two minutes of the game, scoring two layups in 40 seconds to make the score 68-62 with a little more than a minute to play.

Minnesota’s Amir Coffey, who had no points on two missed shots in the first half, came out in the second half ready to play.

He scored 16 points in the second half to add to the better second-half improvement from the team.

Gophers center Reggie Lynch played high school basketball and graduated from Edina High School with Woodward. Woodward had 14 points for the Bulldogs and he had eight points in the final three minutes to keep it close.

The bench continues to be an issue for the Gophers, as only four points were scored by Gophers reserve men compared to 29 for the Bulldogs. Forward Gaston Diedhiou and guard Isaiah Washington had two points each. 

“A lot of us are fairly inexperienced. We had two freshmen that played,” forward Michael Hurt said. “Davonte [Fitzgerald] has been out for two years. I didn’t play a whole lot last year. We have to do a better job of gelling with the starters when we do come in.”

The crowd let the Gophers know at halftime what they thought of the team trailing to Drake as booes echoed throughout Williams Arena. The Gophers were favored to beat by the Bulldogs by 20 points.

“Yeah, that doesn’t help. I know we weren’t playing well, but if the objective is to help, that’s not going to help,” Pitino said. “I appreciate and respect anyone who comes to a game and spends their hard-earned money in the cold. I really do appreciate it, but we need their help.”

Nevertheless, the Gophers go on a nine-day break following the close win. They return to Williams Arena on Dec. 21 to play Oral Roberts (3-9).

“We need a nice reset,” Pitino said. “Hopefully this break will do that.”