Minnesota trailed North Dakota 10-5 early Monday night, but those watching could tell the deficit wouldn’t last.
Mo Walker was the reason for that.
The redshirt senior center powered past North Dakota’s Chad Calcaterra on Minnesota’s first possession of the game for an and-one basket. Walker didn’t look back, scoring a career-high 22 points to lead Minnesota to a 92-56 victory.
“When Mo’s got it going, he’s got it going,” senior DeAndre Mathieu said. “He’s a lot more aggressive on offense and defense. You can kind of tell he’s developing a mean streak.”
Walker recorded the Gophers’ first seven points as his teammates repeatedly fed him the ball inside, taking advantage of undersized defenders.
“Mo establishing that low-post presence early was really good,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “I thought we took a major step as a basketball team today.”
Walker also led Minnesota in rebounding, racking up seven boards. Rebounding hasn’t been a strength for him this season, but it was on Monday.
“Coach is stressing trying to get more out of me, and my teammates have been pushing me to give them more,” Walker said. “So I guess I really took that challenge on today and got really aggressive.”
Things weren’t perfect for Walker and the Gophers, though.
After miscommunication led to an errant first-half pass and turnover, Walker and Andre Hollins exchanged some words while walking down to the other side of the court. A few minutes later, Joey King forced a pass from the top of the key down to Walker, but it was intercepted.
However, the game had plenty of bright spots for Minnesota.
After Mathieu scored a season-high 16 points last week against Western Carolina, he was active offensively again Monday. The senior point guard scored 15 points and tallied a career-high 10 assists.
Charles Buggs, who has become a regular piece of Minnesota’s rotation, played substantial minutes in the victory. The redshirt sophomore finished with only two points and one rebound, but he came away with easily the game’s biggest highlight.
Midway through the second half, Buggs slashed toward the rim and broke free from an off-ball screen from Hollins. Carlos Morris, who chipped in 14 points, lobbed an inbounds pass toward the rim, and Buggs flushed the alley-oop home.
“I didn’t know it was coming,” Buggs said. “I just went up and got it. They left me wide open.”
Josh Martin transferring
Freshman forward Josh Martin is transferring, the athletics department announced Monday.
Martin, who Pitino said looked “nervous” on the court earlier this season, was averaging 5.4 minutes, 1.3 points and one rebound per game.
Before the season started, the Bothell, Wash., native was arguably the most celebrated newcomer from Pitino’s first recruiting class at Minnesota.
It’s been a surprisingly turbulent few months for the Gophers, who are currently playing without four players that were supposed to be on the roster this season — Gaston Diedhiou, Zach Lofton, Daquein McNeil and now Martin.
“It was a surprise to all of us,” Pitino said. “We wish him the best.”