MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Coach Richard Pitino set Minnesota’s early-season schedule with a load of opponents from Power Five conferences, hoping to challenge his young Gophers and help their standing for the NCAA tournament.
Winning those games adds to Minnesota’s resume.
Jordan Murphy scored a season-high 24 points to lead five players in double figures, and he added 16 rebounds to lead the Gophers to an 83-76 win against Oklahoma State on Friday night as part of the U.S. Bank Stadium Basketball Classic.
Minnesota has beaten Utah, Texas A&M, Washington and now the Cowboys before leaving for a game at No. 16 Ohio State.
“We’ve beaten a Big 12 team, two Pac-12 teams and an SEC team, and I don’t believe it’s December yet,” Pitino said after the win. “It’s worth it to play in this venue. I thought our fans were awesome. Our fan base is really, really underrated.”
Gabe Kalscheur scored 14 points, hitting three 3-pointers in the second half for the Gophers (6-1), who overcame their first loss of the season at Boston College. Isaiah Washington added 15 points for Minnesota.
Lindy Waters III led Oklahoma State with 18 points. Waters hit 4 of 6 from 3-point territory. Michael Weathers added 17 points for the Cowboys, who play five freshmen and only have one senior.
“We’ve got to be better,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said. “We’re a team that’s continuing to find out who we are. A month from now, I think we’ll be much better for this experience.”
The Cowboys (4-3), who entered with the 16th best 3-point percentage in the country at 42.5 percent, were 10 of 19 from 3, but just 12 of 24 from the free-throw line.
“Free throws have been an issue,” Boynton said. “It’s something we need to address, for sure.”
The Gophers started slow in the expansive football stadium, leaning on an attacking Murphy, their senior forward who was named to several player of the year award watch lists. Murphy scored 13 of the team’s first 18 points.
Two 3s from Dupree McBrayer and Kalscheur pushed Minnesota to its biggest lead of the game at 18 points in the second half. But the Gophers went without a field goal for more than four minutes and Oklahoma State closed within 77-73.
“Our sense of urgency just picked up,” Waters said. “On the defensive end, we started executing traps, rebounding, help side, knowing the personnel and then executing offensively. Not being afraid to make a mistake on the offensive end because, you know, trying to make a comeback you want to be as aggressive as possible.”
The Gophers were 23 of 30 from the free-throw line to close out the game.
“I think it’s huge with momentum being 6-1, obviously coming off a win going into Sunday and then again on Wednesday,” Murphy said. “We definitely just got to pay attention to the scouting report and game plan coach has set out for us and just be ready.”
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys couldn’t follow up their win against No. 19 LSU on Sunday. Oklahoma State has six wins over ranked opponents in coach Mike Boynton’s two seasons but has had letdowns, too. The young Cowboys experienced a unique setting on Friday that could serve them well down the road.
Minnesota: Another neutral-site victory should help the Gophers in their bid to return to the NCAA tournament. Minnesota will have the strength of schedule of playing in the Big Ten and has now won four neutral-site games already this season after going 3-0 at the Vancouver Showcase.
Murphy finished with the 51st double-double of his career, tying Jim Brewer for the most in school history.
“He’s so productive,” Pitino said. “I don’t think it’s anybody else. He’s just insanely productive. He’s one of the more productive players I’ve ever been around. It’s not always pretty, but he just finds a way. Sixteen rebounds like it was nothing.”
The game is part of a four-game showing at U.S. Bank Stadium in preparation for hosting the 2019 Final Four. The three-year stadium hosts the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and was the site of the Super Bowl in February.
On Saturday, North Dakota State and Drake play, followed by South Dakota State and Northern Iowa. Division III St. Thomas and Wisconsin-River Falls played earlier on Friday.
Oklahoma State plays at Tulsa on Wednesday.
Minnesota goes to Ohio State on Sunday.
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