Gophers stay undefeated in 107-81 win over Niagara

Gophers center Reggie Lynch was one block away from a triple-double, finishing with 18 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocks.

Reggie Lynch, left, and Jordan Murphy, right, attempt to block Concordias shot on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 at Williams Arena.

Courtney Deutz

Reggie Lynch, left, and Jordan Murphy, right, attempt to block Concordia’s shot on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 at Williams Arena.

by Jack Warrick

With just under 10 minutes to play, Niagara cut Minnesota’s lead to two after a jump shot from guard James Towns.

Lucky for Minnesota, that was as close Niagara got to pulling off the win.

The No. 14  Gophers (3-0) went on a 17-0 point run following that shot to beat Niagara (1-1) on Wednesday by a score of 107-81 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

“We just reminded ourselves that we just needed to relax, and we were playing a little bit rushed at that point,” said Gophers forward Jordan Murphy. “And so we just needed to regroup a little bit. Coach reminded us to be calm. He wasn’t really worried.”

The Gophers went on a 39-15 scoring trip to finish off the game in the last 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes saw Murphy and center Reggie Lynch dunk four times, with an alley-oop and standing ovation for each.

Lynch finished one block shy of a triple-double, ending the game with a team-leading 18 points, a team-leading 12 rebounds. Lynch also blocked nine shots on the night. He wasn’t done there — he finished the game with a career-high six assists.

“[Head coach Richard Pitino] told me at three minutes left that I had nine blocks and could have got a triple-double,” Lynch said. “So he told me he was going to give me a couple possessions to get it, but when I went in they just shot threes, so never got the chance.”

Murphy, named Big Ten player of the week on Monday, led the Gophers in scoring for the past two games with 35 points and 23 points, respectively. Murphy led the team in scoring in the Niagara game as well, but he shared the lead with Lynch and Amir Coffey. They each finished with 18 points. Lynch, Murphy and guard Nate Mason all had double-doubles in Wednesday’s blow-out win over Niagara.

“[Coffey] was terrific in the first half, [Mason] was really really solid, [Lynch] and [Murphy] were terrific as well,” Pitino said. “So when we got that balance… I mean we had five guys with double figures, we could have had eight justifiably.”

Though they have won each game by double-digits, the Gophers have started off slow in the first three games. 

In the first game against USC Upstate, the score was tied 31-31 with just over 2:30 left in the first half. At Providence, the Gophers were losing at halftime 36-39. And in the Niagara game, the Gophers were losing by 25-15 at 11:22 to play in the first.

“Offense seems ahead of the defense,” Pitino said. “I think that I agree with you, I thought [last year] our defense was ahead of our offense. I’d like to have them both, you know what I mean? But, I think our defense has got to improve.”

Sophomore forward Michael Hurt was a bright spot off the bench. Though his five points on 13 minutes of playing time isn’t an earth shaking statistic, the Gophers did well when Hurt was in.

“I thought [Hurt] off the bench was terrific,” Pitino said. “He was +28 in plus minus. He’s cutting well, he’s passing well, he’s doing a lot of good things.”

The Purple Eagles were much better at shooting free throws Wednesday night. Niagara hit 100 percent of its free throws — 14-14, and the Gophers shot 54.5 percent from the line — 12-22.

The undefeated Gophers will take a day off before they prepare for Sunday’s game against Western Carolina at home.