Murphy, Mason’s 17 apiece lead Minnesota past Illinois 77-67
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jordan Murphy knows he’s close to the mountaintop, but winning makes the rarified air that much sweeter.
Murphy had 17 points and 17 rebounds while Nate Mason added 17 points and 6 assists as Minnesota defeated Illinois 77-67 on Wednesday.
Murphy, the Big Ten’s scoring and rebounding leader, had 11 boards by halftime as he extended the nation’s longest double-double streak to 16 games. The NCAA record to start a season is 17 straight, set by Tim Duncan at Wake Forest in 1996-97.
Of course, Duncan went on to star for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, which adds extra motivation for Murphy, a 6-foot-7 junior from San Antonio.
“It means a lot as long as we get the W, honestly,” said Murphy, who led the Gophers to their fifth straight victory. “Tim Duncan’s one of my idols, one of my favorite players of all time. Being mentioned in the same sentence as him is a blessing.”
All five starters scored in double figures for Minnesota (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten). Amir Coffey had 16 points, Dupree McBrayer scored 12, and Reggie Lynch finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 7 blocked shots.
Leron Black led Illinois (10-6, 0-3) with 14 points, all in the second half, while Trent Frazier added 12. The Illini shot a season-low 35 percent from the floor, including a 1-for-19 stretch to open the game.
“That was an interesting first 10 minutes. That was like being taken out to the woodshed,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “Their intensity level at the start of the game was at a place that ours wasn’t even close to. That in itself was the ballgame.”
Minnesota scored the game’s first 11 points as the Illini missed their first 11 shots. The Gophers run eventually stretched to 17-2, capped by two long Mason passes that led to dunks by Murphy and Coffey.
Mark Alstork hit a 3-pointer with 7:38 to go in the first half, the only 3-pointer the Illini made out of 13 first-half attempts. They finally concentrated on working the ball inside in the latter stages of the half and Greg Eboigbodin scored eight points to help cut the halftime deficit to 39-26.
Illinois played much of the first half without Black, who picked up his second foul just three minutes into the game. The junior forward, who averages a team-high 14.8 points per game, ended the first half scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting in just five minutes.
“He’s our best player. It was pretty obvious — I think our first two or three shots were to him,” Underwood said. “We were trying to get him going early.”
Minnesota led by 15 when the Illini went on a 13-2 run midway in the second half to climb back into the game. The key play was a steal and 3-pointer by Frazier off a sloppy Minnesota inbounds pass.
The Gophers appeared to get some breathing room when Mason corralled a McBrayer airball in the corner and drained a 3-pointer to make it 68-60. But the Gophers missed three of four free throws before Lynch hit a short jumper and Mason found Murphy for a dunk to put it away.
“It sounds weird, sometimes you get that big lead it’s hard — you know they’re going to come back at some point,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “I thought we really weathered the storm.”
Illinois: The Illini opened Big Ten play in early December with a pair of overtime losses to Northwestern and Maryland. Starting a stretch of four road games in their next five by missing 18 of their first 19 shots was not what Underwood had in mind.
Minnesota: The Gophers led by as much as 20 in the first half, but they allowed Illinois to get within four points before putting it away in the final four minutes. Pitino’s teams have had a tendency to let big leads slip away, a trend that would be troublesome if it continues in Big Ten play.
Mason returned after missing Minnesota’s last game recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered on Dec. 23 against Florida Atlantic. The senior point guard didn’t miss a beat, shooting 6-for-13 from the field and hitting three 3-pointers on the night. But he did admit to a bit of fatigue after playing 37 minutes.
“I barely can talk right now, but it was a huge test just getting back in the swing of things,” said Mason, a first-team all-Big Ten pick last year. “I know you guys could probably see me gasping for air as I was going to the sidelines during timeouts, so I’ve just got to get back in shape and get back in the flow of things.”
Illinois: at Michigan on Saturday
Minnesota: vs. Indiana on Saturday