Gophers Overcome Slow Start to Cruise to Season Opening Win
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jordan Murphy scored a career-high 35 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as the 15th-ranked Minnesota overpowered South Carolina Upstate in the season opener for a 92-77 victory on Friday night.
The Gophers owned a 54-35 rebounding advantage and outscored the Spartans 46-18 in the paint, pulling away right before halftime following a sluggish start. With two-handed slams and soft put-backs, the 6-foot-6 Murphy and 6-foot-11 Lynch gave the Gophers all the production they needed against a wing-heavy Spartans team with no regulars taller than 6-foot-7.
Nate Mason scored 11 points for the Gophers, whose fifth season under coach Richard Pitino began with their highest hopes in 20 years since coming off the lone Final Four appearance that preceded the academic fraud scandal that ravaged the program.
Malik Moore, one of three returning starters for the Spartans this season, scored 22 points. Jure Span added 19 points on 5-for-6 shooting from 3-point range, where the Spartans went a whopping 14 for 31.
The Spartans held the lead in the first half for several stretches and Moore swished a 3-pointer with 4:46 left in the first half to tie the game at 31, but the Gophers took over from there. After a 3-pointer from Amir Coffey and a free throw by Murphy, Michael Hurt found Murphy with a slick high-low pass right before the buzzer for a layup and a 43-33 lead.
This was the debut for South Carolina Upstate head coach Kyle Perry, who was an assistant for the past eight seasons before being promoted on Oct. 3 when Eddie Payne resigned at age 66 after 15 years running the program following a second ankle replacement surgery this summer.
Minnesota freshman Isaiah Washington, who as the Mr. New York Basketball award winner has given the Gophers one of their most heralded recruits in years, received a rousing ovation when he entered for the first time for Dupree McBrayer early in the first half. Known for his signature "Jelly Roll" layup that rolls off his fingers with a snap of the wrist, Washington overheard some young boys yelling "Jelly!" at him during pregame warmups and pointed at them as he flashed a big smile.
Washington, who often played next to the senior captain Mason to give the Gophers two natural point guards on the floor, finished with four points on 1-for-9 shooting, including 1 for 7 from 3-point range. He added five assists in 23 minutes.
USC? NO, IT'S SCU
South Carolina Upstate, which finished 17-16 in 2016-17, was picked to finish fourth in the eight-team Atlantic Sun in the conference's preseason coaches' poll. The school formerly known as South Carolina Spartanburg became a provisional NCAA Division I member 10 years ago after appearing in six NCAA Division II tournaments between 1991 and 2006.
South Carolina Upstate: The Spartans fell to 0-5 against teams from the Big Ten, since the transition.
Minnesota: The Gophers won their season opener for the 20th time in the last 21 years. They're 93-24 all-time in lid-lifters.
South Carolina Upstate: The Spartans return home for a game on Sunday afternoon against Allen, an NAIA university. Then they face another power conference team, at Georgia on Tuesday.
Minnesota: The Gophers play at Providence, Pitino's alma mater, on Monday night in the Gavitt Tipoff Games, the third annual eight-game slate of matchups between Big Ten and Big East teams. The first two editions produced 4-4 splits between the two conferences. Minnesota beat St. John's in the event last season.