MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With a post-Thanksgiving tournament looming, all the Minnesota Golden Gophers had to do was avoid a letdown against an unfamiliar opponent. Jordan Murphy made sure that didn’t happen.
Murphy had his fifth straight double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds as No. 14 Minnesota defeated Alabama A&M 100-57 on Tuesday night.
“Just watching college basketball, we’ve seen a lot of upsets,” said Murphy, a junior forward and co-captain. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given night, so we keep that in the back of our minds.”
Four others scored in double figures for the Gophers (5-0). Davonte Fitzgerald had 13, Nate Mason scored 12 and Reggie Lynch and Jamir Harris each added 11. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino spread out the minutes, with his reserves on the court for nearly half of the game.
“I wanted to get the bench guys some minutes,” Pitino said. “Those were good minutes for them to play, not to mention we’ve got to travel (Wednesday) and we have to prepare for two games, so it was good to get rest (for the starters) as well.”
Minnesota heads to New York City for the weekend, with games against UMass and No. 25 Alabama on tap. When they return home, they’ll face No. 11 Miami and open Big Ten play against Rutgers before playing true road games at Nebraska and Arkansas. With those tough tests around the corner, Tuesday’s game could not have worked out better for the Gophers.
“Our starting five really has a good flow going out there so it’s really our job to come in and not have any downfalls and just weather the storm to give these guys the rest they need,” said Fitzgerald, a reserve forward.
Mohamed Sherif led the Bulldogs (0-4) with 10 points.
The Bulldogs went the first 11 minutes without a two-point field goal, preferring outside shots due to the Gophers’ size advantage. A&M’s first four baskets came from 3-point range, but Minnesota built a 26-12 lead thanks to 12 quick points from Mason and the rout was on.
“I want our starters playing crisp minutes together, and I saw that,” Pitino said. “I thought they were all really good.”
Alabama A&M: Coming off a 2-27 season, the Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. They were no match for a Minnesota team expected to contend for a Big Ten title.
Minnesota: The Gophers got what they needed out of this game. Everyone stayed healthy, the reserves got extended playing time, and the starters weren’t overtaxed with back-to-back games coming up this weekend.
Murphy found out on Monday that he’d won his second straight Big Ten Player of the Week award, thanks in part to starting the season with four straight double-doubles. But the streak was in jeopardy on Tuesday because when Pitino pulled his starting five midway through the second half, Murphy had 20 points but only nine rebounds.
However, Pitino put Murphy back into the game with just over 5 minutes to play. He grabbed a defensive board, added an assist on the other end for good measure, and Pitino called time out to get him out of the game.
Murphy insists he didn’t lobby Pitino to get back on the court to extend the streak, but he was glad it happened.
“I was just sitting there — I didn’t know if I was done or not,” Murphy said. “He just told me, ‘Murph, go get (Fitzgerald),’ and after I got the 10th rebound he took me out. I definitely told him thank you for that but I didn’t ask for it.”
When asked if he knew Murphy’s streak was on the line, Pitino deadpanned “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But he lavished praise on Murphy, who made 9 of 10 shots from the field on Tuesday.
“What I love about him is he’s understanding if he plays hard, how good it makes him look,” Pitino said. “And he’s not a selfish kid. He wants to win. But that’s how he helps the team, by rebounding the ball, by living around the rim.”
Alabama A&M: Travels to Niagara Falls, New York, for the final rounds of the Barclays Center Classic. The Bulldogs take on Niagara on Friday and will play either Western Carolina or UT-Arlington on Saturday.
Minnesota: Travels to Brooklyn to wrap up the other half of the Barclays Center Classic bracket. The Gophers play UMass on Friday and No. 25 Alabama on Saturday.
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