The Gophers bounced back in a big way Sunday, knocking off the #19 Michigan Wolverines 75-67 at Williams Arena. Their second top-20 victory gets them back to .500 in a loaded Big Ten at 3-3, 9-7 overall.
Daniel Oturu scored 30 points on 13-18 shooting despite leaving the game with a scary injury midway through the second half, while Marcus Carr finished with 21 points, 12 assists, and 0 turnovers.
“We got better as the game went on, and that’s the key in this league,” said coach Richard Pitino.
Michigan was in control early, getting the lead as high as eleven before a 9-0 Gophers run to close the first half made it a 31-30 game at the break. The teams battled for much of the second half before Minnesota pulled away to seal it. In fact, the game was remarkably close:
Shooting: 26-62 for Michigan, 28-51 for Minnesota
Rebounds: 33-30 in favor of Minnesota
Assists: 16-14 in favor of Minnesota
Turnovers: 8-5 in favor of Michigan
Blocks: 2-1 in favor of Michigan
Here’s what separated the two teams:
Daniel Oturu. Going up against Jon Teske, another of the Big Ten’s top bigs, Oturu was off-the-charts-good, with his 30 and 7 rebounds not even beginning to tell the story. Oturu scored 20 of the team’s 30 first half points, keeping them alive as the Wolverines threatened to run away with it early, and opened the second half by drilling a jumper on the first possession to give the U the lead and following it up by hammering home a two-handed dunk to get the crowd rocking on the next possession.
“Phenomenal,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard of his performance.
Shortly thereafter, with 14:35 remaining, he went to the ground after a shot attempt, writhing in pain as Williams Arena went silent before heading to the locker room holding his left shoulder. He left the game against Michigan State on Thursday holding the same arm before returning a few minutes later, and did the same again today, though he looked a bit tentative after coming back into the game.
"I was concerned,” said Pitino, “He was in a lot of pain.”
“It felt like it slipped in and out,” said Oturu, who said he did some shoulder exercises and got some Icy Hot before going back in. A serious injury could define the Gophers’ season, so it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
Marcus Carr. With Oturu out, the burden fell to Carr and he delivered. After a first half in which he was just 2-7 for 6 points, though he did have 6 assists, Carr exploded in the second, scoring 16 points on 5-6 shooting to go with another 6 assists. He consistently got to the hoop, either finishing at the rim or knocking down free throws (5-6 from the line after the break) to provide much-needed scoring.
When not scoring, Carr ran the offense to a T, finishing with an insane 12:0 assist-to-turnover ratio. He darted all over the court, throwing alley-oops and making excellent passes off of drives, none bigger than a crosscourt penetrate-and-kick with just over a minute left to an open Payton Willis, who, scoreless to that point, buried a three to stretch the lead to 8 and effectively seal the game.
Carr played all 40 minutes for the second-straight contest, and the Gophers needed all of them. “Putting my emphasis on taking care of the ball,” was how Carr described it after the game.
Turnovers. After just 11 turnovers against both Northwestern and Michigan State, a steady improvement from earlier in the year, the Gophers gave it up just 5 times today, with only 1 in the second half – and, again, none by the guy handling the ball the entire game.
“They did a really good job of protecting the ball,” said Howard, heaping praise on the Gophers’ point guard. “Carr is very patient on the pick and roll, good at reading where the defender is. Can’t speed him up, has a nice pace to his game. Give him a lot of credit, as well as Coach Pitino for the game plan today.”
Pitino had a similar take, mostly. “It wasn’t my game plan. It was Marcus Carr. We didn’t do a whole lot different,” though he noted that Oturu started to dive toward the basket rather than popping out, which ostensibly leads to less dribbling.
“To win in this league, you have to be tough and you can’t turn the ball over – and we did both.”
Alihan Demir. Last but not least, Demir also stepped up down the stretch, scoring all 13 of his points in the second half. He was both efficient, going 4-5 from the floor, and aggressive, getting to the line consistently, finishing 5-6 from the line. “He’s playing really good basketball,” said Pitino of his starting four, who drew praise from his coach, Oturu, and Carr after the game.
There were a few other areas of separation, and not all to Minnesota’s benefit:
Three-point shooting. After putting up 29 and 20 attempts, respectively, from distance against Northwestern and Michigan State, the Gophers took just 16 three-point shots on Sunday, with their first not coming until nearly eight minutes into the game, and made just four, well below their season average.
Michigan, meanwhile, came into the game having made just 25/94 of attempts from distance over four Big Ten games, but went 10/28. The Gophers’ three-point defense has been far from exceptional this year, and today was no different as they gave up a number of open looks, whether on curls off of screens or extra passes, Michigan failed to convert. Had they hit some of them, this might have been a much different game.
Free-throw shooting. It seems like this is a point worth mentioning after every game but it bears mention, again. The Gophers seemed to be turning a corner recently, shooting 89% on 101 attempts over five games before attempting just 8 against Michigan State on Thursday, though they did make 7 of them.
Against the Wolverines, getting to the line wasn’t the problem – it was making them. Minnesota shot just 15-27, with Carr, Willis, and Gabe Kalscheur combining to miss four in the final minute. All three have good shots, so it isn’t time to panic, but guards missing free throws is generally a recipe for disaster.
That wasn’t the case today, however, and the Gophers got a really good win against a good Michigan team. The gauntlet run continues with home game Wednesday versus #20 Penn State.