MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Each time North Carolina A&T looked as if it was going to give Minnesota trouble, the Gophers turned to their standout senior Jordan Murphy and highly touted freshman Daniel Oturu.
Murphy and Oturu controlled the inside, and Minnesota took control against the Aggies.
Murphy had a season-high 30 points and 16 rebounds, and Oturu added a season-high 20 points and 11 boards as the Gophers held on to beat North Carolina A&T 86-67 on Friday night.
Dupree McBrayer had 13 points for Minnesota (10-2, 1-1 Big Ten), which has won five of its past six games and overcame a poor shooting night by going to Murphy and Oturu in the paint.
“It’s important for us to go inside,” said Gophers coach Richard Pitino, who recorded his 100t win as Minnesota’s coach in his sixth season with the team. “That’s a point of emphasis with us is we want to go inside to out. I thought all the guys were getting open looks. I just thought Jordan and Daniel converted.”
The Gophers were 4 of 20 from 3-point territory. Minnesota outrebounded the Aggies 49-30 and held a 56-30 edge in points in the paint.
Qua Copeland led North Carolina A&T (4-7) with 19 points and Ibrahim Sylla added 11.
Fresh off a loss at No. 13 Virginia Tech, North Carolina A&T was ready to run with the Gophers. The Aggies hit 11 of their first 18 shots and held a 25-15 advantage before Minnesota turned to Murphy to reclaim momentum.
With Murphy scoring seven points, the Gophers used an 18-2 run to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“It doesn’t have to just be me,” Murphy said of stabilizing the offense. “Today just happened to be me and definitely was, I got very passionate about it.”
The lead grew to 14 points early in the second half, but North Carolina A&T fought back again and got within seven. Minnesota finally hit a few outside shots and coasted the rest of the way.
“Go to church, Christmas, pray,” Pitino said of how to fix the outside shooting. “I don’t know. I’m not stressed about that as much as I am the on-ball defense. I think we’re getting open looks.”
North Carolina A&T: The Aggies got the tests they were looking for this week. Playing tough competition ended in back-to-back losses but should pay dividends when North Carolina A&T gets into Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play. The schedule eases a bit and the Aggies get a week off.
Minnesota: The Gophers haven’t always been pretty, but they’ve taken care of business in the easier portion of their schedule. They play Mount St. Mary’s after a week off and then the bulk of Big Ten schedule begins.
Sophomore forward Eric Curry was held out again as he tries to return from knee surgery. Pitino said he believes Curry could return for Minnesota’s next game.
“I don’t know why he wouldn’t play on the 30th, but again, I’m not a doctor. I’m not a trainer,” Pitino said. “I think it’s important that he continues to progress with the contact portion of practice, the non-contact portion of it. There’s so many variables that go into it. On my end, I want to just mentally see where he’s at.”
Pitino added that guard Amir Coffey is dealing with a “little” hip pointer. Coffey played 23:08 and scored seven points.
McBrayer made his return to the lineup after missing one game to return home for the funeral of his mother last week.
“I was emotional at first,” McBrayer said. “A lot of emotions running through my head thinking about my mom, and how she’s looking down on me. She would want me to keep going, keep fighting.”
North Carolina A&T plays at Eastern Carolina on Dec. 28.
Minnesota hosts Mount St. Mary’s on Dec. 30.