MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As one of the most heralded high school recruits Minnesota has brought in under head coach Richard Pitino, Isaiah Washington has been a work in progress as a college point guard.
This was one of those games where the sophomore’s potential was fulfilled.
Jordan Murphy had 20 points and a season-high 18 rebounds, Washington pitched in 14 points and 13 assists and Minnesota outlasted North Florida 80-71 on Tuesday night.
“That’s Isaiah. Some days he’s good. Some days he’s not. He’s got to find a way to get consistent with every little thing that he does. He’s got the talent. But it’s just a matter of his habits continuing to improve,” said Pitino, who benched Washington for the second half on Saturday afternoon against Arkansas State after he went 0 for 4 from the floor with one turnover in six minutes.
Amir Coffey added 18 points and five rebounds and Daniel Oturu had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Gophers (9-2), who missed 14 of their 15 attempts from 3-point range and consequently never held a double-digit lead.
The Ospreys (4-6) gave them just about all they could handle, with Garrett Sams (13 points), Wajid Aminu (10 points), Noah Horchler (nine points, 10 rebounds) and Trip Day (nine points, nine rebounds) all part of a balanced performance following a nine-day break between games for final exams.
“I think we underestimated them a tiny bit,” said Murphy, who had six of his team’s 10 turnovers.
Washington fed Oturu for a dunk and a 60-52 lead with 8:57 left, but that was one of several points in the game the Ospreys refused to let the Gophers pull away. Aminu beat Murphy on a fast break for an uncontested layup, cutting the lead to 62-59 about 1½ minutes later. The Ospreys were within 65-64, but Washington’s spin dribble into the paint and pullup jumper after a fake pass to his left gave the Gophers a 67-64 edge with 4:06 remaining and enough momentum to finish it off.
“We had a good bond. Everybody was just in the right spots,” Washington said. “I got them the ball, and we had a good game.”
Minnesota held a 52-35 rebounding edge and drew 39 foul shots, sinking 27. That helped make up for freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur’s 0-for-10 shooting performance, including eight misfires from 3-point range.
The Ospreys didn’t play anybody taller than 6-foot-7, and the Gophers had five players on the court at that height or more. The muscle and size of Murphy, the Big Ten’s leading rebounder, and Oturu in the lane was ultimately what gave the Gophers the edge. Washington’s touch and vision from the perimeter, though, made all that production possible.
The sophomore point guard, who has begun to thrive this season in his role off the bench with Coffey running the offense for the starting five, had eight of his assists by halftime.
“He has really great court vision, and he really knows how to get in the paint,” Murphy said. “So, when you combine those two, it’s a great equation to have.”
The Gophers played without senior guard Dupree McBrayer, whose mother, Tayra McFarlane, died of cancer on Dec. 3. He’d played in two games since then but went home to New York City for her funeral, which several Gophers players and coaches were scheduled to attend on Wednesday. Pitino, who helped raise more than $15,000 for McBrayer’s family, traded text messages with McBrayer before the game. McBrayer told the coach he was having a hard time at the wake.
“We’ve got to make sure that as a team that support doesn’t go away,” Pitino said.
NOT THIS TIME
The Ospreys fell to 2-13 against current members of the Big Ten, with wins against Purdue in 2014 and Illinois in 2015. They lost at Minnesota in 2012.
North Florida: As the only team in the nation that returned all five starters from last season with none of them seniors, the Ospreys have the confidence and experience to compete with power-conference opponents like Minnesota. Head coach Matthew Driscoll, who took over in 2009 when the program became a full-fledged Division I member, has already taken his team to Dayton, Penn State and Florida, with road trips to Florida State and Auburn remaining later this month.
Minnesota: Going into their nine-day break from games for final exams, the Gophers looked ready for, well, a break. They’ll welcome McBrayer back into the mix, with Brock Stull producing only two points in 19 minutes from his place in the starting lineup. Center Eric Curry is also slated to make his season debut, after a setback this fall in his recovery from a knee injury that kept him out of the entire 2017-18 season.
North Florida: Plays at Florida International on Thursday.
Minnesota: Hosts North Carolina A&T on Dec. 21.