The Gophers finally played up to their potential, never trailing on the way to a convincing 78-60 victory over the Clemson Tigers in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It’s their first win in the annual event since 2016, and gets them back to .500 on the year at 4-4.
Sophomore Marus Carr had a career-high 24 points to go along with 9 assists, while sophomore Daniel Oturu added 21 points and 4 blocks.
Oturu started the night altering a shot on Clemson’s first possession, running the floor, and throwing down a two-handed dunk at the other end as the Gophers jumped out to a 15-4 lead. The Tigers cut the gap to six at halftime, but the Gophers started the second half on 13-3 run and pulled away, stretching the lead as high as 22.
“Great win for our guys,” said coach Richard Pitino. He wasn’t wrong. The highlights:
Marcus Carr. After a few quiet games Carr showed off for the national TV audience, totaling 24 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, and just 2 turnovers in 36 minutes. He had a number of crafty finishes at the rim and good passes leading to open looks, which finally fell, while limiting his turnovers. And he hit his free throws, going 6-7 at the line.
“I’m not really thinking about the statistical impact, just thinking about winning the game,” said Carr.
Defense. Clemson leading scorer Tevin Mack, who came in averaging 15 points on 53% shooting, was held to just two points on four field goal attempts.
“Mack was their strength, so we talked about taking him out of the game – our 3s and 4s did a terrific job on him,” said Pitino, mentioning he employed Bill Belichick’s strategy of focusing on your strengths and stopping the other team’s.
The Tigers didn’t shoot terribly, but many of their looks were contested and they finished just 2-11 from three. The Gophers also won the turnover battle and turned them into buckets, racking up 16 points off of turnovers and 17 fast break points.
Shooting. For a nice change of pace, the Gophers hit their shots. They were a season-high 54% from the field on 28-52 shooting, going 15-27 in the second half, including 5-12 from distance. Carr (8-16), Oturu (9-11), and Gabe Kalscheur (4-7 for 15 points) all looked great. And the team went 14-19 from the fre- throw line after missing eleven on Friday against DePaul.
Bench play. The bench was called upon early with Oturu, Carr, and Kalscheur all in first half foul trouble, and they were up to the task. Ten players saw the court before the break including freshmen BJ Greenlee, who saw less than one minute of action against DePaul, and Sam Freeman, who had just six minutes total previously. No one lit up the box score, but they kept the team afloat. Pitino praised the bench, especially Michal Hurt, after the game.
Frankly, there wasn’t a ton of bad in the game. The Gophers could’ve closed out a little tighter on Clemson’s shooters and missed a few rotations, but the team played well together, looking solid if not spectacular on both ends of the floor and limiting their mistakes to handily defeat a 5-2 Clemson team that nearly knocked off undefeated, top-20 ranked Colorado in their last game.
“It’s a good boost for us,” said Oturu. “It should give our team some confidence going into a Big Ten game.”
That game will come in one week when the Gophers travel to Iowa City for the Big Ten opener. They take on the Hawkeyes next Monday from Carver at 7 p.m.