Written By Sam Ekstrom (ColdOmaha.com)
Photo Credit: Brian Curski
Not even a classic trap game could ensnare the Golden Gophers after their big win against Maryland.
As 8-point favorites against the Penn State Nittany Lions — a team they’d lost to back on Jan. 14. — the Gophers covered the spread with a 81-71 win and allowed the sellout crowd to leave without feeling the usual stresses associated with recent Gophers home games.
There were almost too many big performances to cover for Minnesota. Jordan Murphy continued his dominance with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Nate Mason nearly notched his first-ever triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Dupree McBrayer scored 15 points off the bench.
But Reggie Lynch stole the show, putting on a block party Williams Arena hadn’t seen since Mychal Thompson. The center rejected 11 shots, the second-highest total in team history, to go with his nine points. Even more remarkably, the foul-prone Lynch didn’t pick up a single personal despite playing 29 minutes and blocking nearly a dozen shots.
“It’s a miracle,” deadpanned coach Richard Pitino, who had criticized Lynch recently for his tendency to foul out.
The junior transfer had six blocks in the first half, the final two coming in succession as Penn State looked for a basket late in the first half.
— Minnesota on BTN (@MinnesotaOnBTN) February 25, 2017
With his first-half effort, Lynch set the school’s new single-season block record, breaking Randy Breuer’s mark of 87.
But Lynch wasn’t finished.
“I realized that some of the guys were getting frustrated on the Penn State team after we were up 10, 14 with like five minutes to go, and they were trying to force up some tough shots,” said Lynch. “When I was able to recognize that, I tried to know when the shot was going to be taken and when they were going to dump it down to the big guy. I just got in a little zone.”
Some are contesting Lynch should have 12 blocks after having one discounted because it was perceived as a pass rather than a shot. That cost him a share of the single-game school record.
No matter, though. It was still a career high for Lynch, who also had a nine-block game earlier this season.
As Lynch was removed from the game with less than a minute remaining, he was serenaded by chants of “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” from the appreciative crowd. “That’s why he chose Minnesota,” said Pitino. “He wanted to play for his home state. He didn’t want to go anywhere else. He wanted to come here to play for the name on the front of the jersey, wanted to be near his family. I’m sure he’s dreamed of that moment, walking off the court at The Barn, chanting your name.”
Lynch’s block-fest helped the Gophers generate plenty of transition offense in the first half, and they led 39-28 at the break. Mason scored 14 of his 16 before halftime thanks to four 3-pointers. He also had the first 10-rebound game of his career.
As far as guards go, Mason must have handed the baton to McBrayer in the locker room. The sophomore scored 13 points in the second half off the bench, delivering a third consecutive double-digit game in his newfound reserve role.
Minnesota passed the ball well all afternoon, finishing with 20 assists, tied for their second most in conference play. They even got a pair of assists from Lynch, who only had four assists in the conference season coming into the game.
“I think that we’re clicking offensively, getting better,” said Pitino. “Obviously during that [losing] stretch we were in the 60s, right? And now we’re averaging in the 80s, so offensively we’re getting comfortable where we’re at, and I think it’s clear that guys are playing their best basketball and they’re improving.”
UP NEXT: The next time the Gophers play, it will have been over a month since their last defeat. They host Nebraska in their home finale on Thursday, March 2.