Gophers starters skew younger

Minnesota started three freshmen and two sophomores in its last two games.

Minnesota forward Dupree McBrayer shoots on Indiana at Williams Arena on Saturday, where the Gophers lost to the Hoosiers 70-63.

Image by Liam James Doyle

Minnesota forward Dupree McBrayer shoots on Indiana at Williams Arena on Saturday, where the Gophers lost to the Hoosiers 70-63.

by Ryan Falk

The Gophers tried to rely on senior leadership early this season, but in the midst of a seven-game losing streak Minnesota has turned to its talented young players to try to find a victory. 
In the team’s last two games head coach Richard Pitino has taken his two seniors, guard Carlos Morris and forward Joey King, out of the starting lineup and replaced both with freshmen.
“You got to try different things when you’re losing like we’re losing,” Pitino said.
The head coach started guards Dupree McBrayer and Ahmad Gilbert at Nebraska and again against Indiana Saturday. The two joined an already young starting lineup with freshman forward Jordan Murphy, sophomore guard Nate Mason and sophomore center Bakary Konaté.
The Gophers lost to the Huskers 84-59 with the new starters in place, but Pitino said he still saw something out of the new group.
“I played that lineup because of the spirit part of it,” Pitino said. “I thought we played really well the first couple minutes. I loved how connected that group was in a sense of talking to each other, picking each other up, not feeling sorry for themselves, all of those things. That’s why I went with that lineup.”
The new starters helped the Gophers defense, which ranks 12th in the Big Ten, keep Indiana’s offense in check for most of the gameSaturday.
The Hoosiers average 85 points per game, the most in the Big Ten, but scored 70 against Minnesota.
The Gophers held Indiana to just six fast break points in the game even though the team has struggled with defensive communication all year.
“I feel like the group of guys are talking a little bit more on the court,” Mason said. “I feel like that’s the reason [Pitino] went to this lineup.” 
The Gophers suffered a setback in the game however as Gilbert suffered a dislocated finger and had to watch the rest of the loss with a cast on his hand.
“I thought Ahmad Gilbert was really good,” Pitino said after the loss to Indiana. “I thought his activity was great. I did think when he got hurt, I’m not saying it’s the reason we lost, but it really screwed up our flow from a defensive standpoint, from a substitution standpoint.”
Minnesota lost 70-63 to Indiana, which gave the team a 0-6 start in Big Ten play, but Mason was still positive about the lineup changes after the game.
“It was exciting seeing freshman come out with that much energy,” Mason said. “It was good to see that Dupree [McBrayer] got off to a good start. [Gilbert] was talking. I feel like everyone was engaged, felt like you had to be engaged and have a lot of energy to start the game off.” 
The Gophers will be forced to change up things again with Gilbert injured, but for now the team’s trying season will continue with two seniors starting on the bench.
“Right now it’s whatever coach wants,” Morris said. “It’s human nature just to switch things up and try to see what works. [You] get different looks with different lineups.”