By Brendan Crowley
On Monday night, the 14th ranked Golden Gophers traveled to Providence to take on the Friars in a grudge match between two teams that will certainly be in the mix for this year’s NCAA Tournament. In their first road game of the season, Minnesota’s veteran squad was able to pull out an 86-74 victory but the game was much closer than the final score reads.
After starting the game hot with a 12-2 run behind dominating play in the post by Reggie Lynch, the Gophers slowed down and allowed Providence to go on a run of their own behind senior leaders Kyron Cartwright, Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey. The scoring in the first half was very balanced for Providence with a couple of late threes by Lindsey rocking the Dunkin Donuts Center and putting the crowd on their feet as the Friars took a late first half lead.
The biggest surprise in this game was seeing how seeing how much freshman guard Isaiah Washington has already progressed for Minnesota. The shifty newcomer out of Harlem was the 6th man for the Gophers and controlled the tempo of the game all night. Six points in the final 6 minutes of the first half along with a no-look assist to Jordan Murphy pulled them within 3 with just under 2 minutes left. Providence failed to convert open opportunities in their last few possessions but still hung on to a 39-36 lead going in to the break after an Isaiah Washington “buzzer-beating” jumper was waved off.
The second half began just how the first had ended, the Friars were slowly but surely gaining momentum and Minnesota was making costly mistakes on the offensive end, taking contested shots early in the possession and failing to move the ball around like they had in the opening 10 minutes. Inside buckets by junior Jordan Murphy were able to keep the Gophers afloat and hold off Bullock and Co. from taking the game over as the game approached the midway point in the 2nd half.
With 9 minutes remaining the score was at 63-60 with Providence trailing. Up to this point in the 2nd, the Friars defense had improved tremendously and they were able to control the tempo, speeding up the game but playing under control. It was at that moment however, with 9 minutes left, that Minnesota turned the tables and began hitting shot after shot. The Gophers went on to make their next 12 field goals, with sharpshooting by Amir Coffey and Murphy’s dominating presence on the inside, Minnesota stretched their lead out to 72-63 following another Coffey made 3. Providence’s inability to grab defensive rebounds and lock down or Jordan Murphy in the paint was what led to their demise all night. The junior finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds on 10-15 shooting. That along with 15 points from Amir Coffey and another 17 out of senior guard Nate Mason was more than enough to push the Big Ten contenders over the edge as they out hustled and out ran Providence to win 86-74.
The biggest takeaway for both teams at the end of this one was evident. Providence needs to slow down and show more discipline. They had a number of unforced turnovers and down the stretch continued to play 1-on-1 basketball instead of coming together as a team. In due time Ed Cooley will certainly have that under control and the Friars, with their size and depth, will be sitting near the top of the Big East come conference play. For the Gophers, if they’re able to continue their dominant inside then they can, without a doubt, run the table in the Big Ten and compete with Purdue, Northwestern, and Michigan State for that title. This veteran team, under an excellent coach in Pitino, will be one to keep an eye on as the season goes along.