Bench provides spark for Minnesota

Published 12:12 am Tuesday, December 1, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota coach Richard Pitino has two nicknames for promising freshman Jordan Murphy: “High-motor Murph” and “Low-motor Murph.”

“It’s like Bizarro Superman,” Pitino said. “Tonight was High-motor Murph.”

Murphy had 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead Minnesota to an 89-83 victory over Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Monday night.

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Murphy hit 9 of 16 shots and Nate Mason added 17 points with eight assists for the Golden Gophers (5-2). Eight of Murphy’s 10 rebounds came on the offensive glass, giving Minnesota a much-needed spark off the bench.

“I think I’m getting to him because he played really hard tonight,” Pitino said.

Pitino said they saw moments when Murphy would “float a little bit” while recruiting him, but they were intrigued by his talent and versatile game. The needling appears to be working with the 6-foot-6 San Antonio native.

“It really did irk me a little bit at first, but then it was like a challenge that he gave me,” Murphy said. “I think you just have to respond well to it.”

Jaron Blossomgame scored 24 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Jordan Roper scored a career-high 25 for Clemson (4-2), which hit 14 of 28 3-pointers.

The Tigers led by 10 in the first half but they allowed Minnesota to shoot 52.7 percent for the game and had no answer for Murphy down the stretch.

Minnesota went 24 for 30 at the free throw line and only turned it over six times.

“I think we just got out-toughed at the rim by Murphy,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Murphy was the difference. We did a reasonably good job on (Joey) King, but I thought Murphy’s athleticism and activity level was primarily the difference.”

King scored 17 points and Charles Buggs scored 15 for the Gophers, who narrowly beat Nebraska-Omaha on their home floor on Friday night. Once again, they had trouble defending the perimeter early in the game, and they nearly dug a hole too deep to climb out of.

The undersized Gophers were outrebounded in each of their first six games, but were the aggressors on the glass on Monday night. They held a 31-25 advantage and Murphy did his best to make the versatile Blossomgame work for his looks.

Blossomgame converted a 3-point play and hit a deep 3 to cut Minnesota’s lead to 76-73 with 2:23 to play, but Mason hit a couple of free throws and Murphy scored on a tip-in to help hold the Tigers off.

It was a solid win for the rebuilding Gophers against their first quality opponent at home this season. They faced Missouri-Kansas City, Louisiana-Monroe and Omaha in their first three home games of the season.

The lack of quality opponents, coupled with the fact the Gophers failed to qualify for even the NIT tournament last season, led to another sparse crowd at Williams Arena, once the most popular sports venue in town.

Those that braved the first snow of the year saw an exciting, back-and-forth game.

“We feel like we’re a better offensive team this year, more talented, more guys that can make more shots,” Roper said. “But we’re not as good defensively and that’s our identity. We gotta pick things up on that side of the ball.”


Clemson: The Tigers haven’t won a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game since 2011. … The Tigers outscored Minnesota 10-2 on fast-break points. … Roper had two turnovers after committing just one in the first five games.

Minnesota: Richard Pitino shuffled the starting lineup, moving Buggs to the bench in favor of Dupree McBrayer. After the Gophers got beat on the glass in the first two minutes, Buggs was in the game.


Clemson: Hosts USC Upstate on Wednesday.

Minnesota: Hosts South Dakota on Saturday.


Freshman point guard Kevin Dorsey has looked erratic at the start of his career at Minnesota. But he was much more under control on Monday night with zero turnovers in 19 minutes.

“I thought Kevin Dorsey came in and really changed the game,” Pitino said.