The Gophers overcame a slow start on the way to their third straight victory Saturday, defeating the Florida International Panthers 89-62 at Williams Arena. The win brings them to 7-5 on the season entering the main part of Big Ten play.
Gabe Kalscheur led the team with 23 points, Daniel Oturu had 21 points and 20 rebounds, putting up his seventh double-double of the year before halftime, and Marcus Carr added 17 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds as the team’s three-headed monster carried them to victory.
“The Iowa game woke us up,” said coach Richard Pitino, referencing the 20-point loss that preceded the team’s three-game winning streak. “We’re playing good basketball.”
Kalscheur echoed that sentiment, noting the team’s confidence “is at an all-time high.”
Among the takeaways from the latest good performance:
Gabe Kalscheur. The sophomore from Edina had another solid game on both ends of the floor, shooting 5-10 from downtown and adding 5 steals. He’s 25-45 from the floor over the previous three games following an 0-10 showing against Iowa. He missed his first few shots but got hot by the middle of the first half, following a similar track to his performance against the Cowboys on the way to 17 points before the break.
The team depends on Oturu and struggles when Carr does, but Kalscheur’s importance – opening up space for the offense, hitting big shots to get the crowd involved – cannot be minimized. The Gophers are 6-1 in the seven games he has made four or more field goals, and 1-4 in the five he hasn’t.
Daniel Oturu. Let’s not forget about the big guy, though. Oturu dominated on the block once again against an overmatched FIU team on the way to monstrous 20-20 night on 8-12 shooting. He had 11 points and 12 rebounds before the break, and spent the day cleaning up misses on offense and altering shots on defense.
“Terrific,” said Pitino, succinctly describing the sophomore.
Free-throw shooting. Believe it! The Gophers were an absurd 29-30 from the line, far-and-away their most attempts, makes, and highest percentage of the season, taking full advantage of aggressive play that consistently drew fouls. After going 15-20 and 12-13 from charity stripe against Ohio State and Oklahoma State, respectively, they’ve now put together three good free-throw shooting games in a row.
And the other areas ripe for improvement:
Execution. It’s tough to lament a 27-point win in a game they led for more than 31 minutes, especially during school break in the holiday season, but the Gophers didn’t play their A-game. They had 14 turnovers, losing the turnover battle for most of the game in what would have been their fourth contest in a row on the wrong side of that equation, behind lazy feeds into the post, wild passes, and lost balls out of bounds.
On defense, miscommunications and missed box outs allowed FIU a number of open looks, which they mostly failed to convert. Had the Panthers not shot 4-19 from three, though, this could’ve been a different game.
Handling the press. After struggling with Oklahoma State’s press last weekend, FIU deployed a press from the get-go and similarly gave the Gophers fits. Carr threw the ball three rows out of bounds on the first possession it was used, and the team never seemed fully comfortable dealing with the pressure, whether it was Carr or BJ Greenlee handling the ball. This was an area where Payton Willis, out for a second straight game with an ankle injury, was missed.
The Gophers’ press break basically amounted to, Marcus Carr, do something, which did lead to a number of open looks, with Pitino noting that despite the press, “We still scored 89 points.” Even so, the rest of the Big Ten will certainly have taken notice of their ability to handle it, so don’t expect this to be the last time this team is pressed.
Ultimately, the Gophers picked up another big win, doing so behind the play of Carr, Oturu and Kalscheur. With those three going Minnesota is a tough team to beat, even with minimal production elsewhere, as was the case Saturday with no other players in double figures (though freshman Isahah Ihnen did have 7 points in eleven minutes, again flashing his tremendous upside).
The return of Willis should help, as should bigger crowds and a more amped team as the opponents get better.
Big Ten play resumes next Thursday, as the Gophers take on Purdue at Mackey Arena.