Murphy’s ‘sheer will’ helped Minnesota get big win

By Dave Campbell

AP Sports Writer

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jordan Murphy was the lone bright spot as a freshman last season for Minnesota, the best rebounder and second-leading scorer while the Gophers staggered to a program-worst 8-23 record.

Murphy’s sophomore year has been more about meshing with a better, deeper lineup than standing out on a bad team — until his big game against Iowa on Wednesday night. He helped the Gophers hang on for a critical 101-89 victory in double overtime with a performance that would’ve been the showstopper were it not for point guard Nate Mason’s ball-handling, deft drives and foul shooting.

“Jordan did that just by sheer will,” coach Richard Pitino said. “When he does that, we’re pretty difficult.”

Supplementing a career-high 25 points with 19 rebounds and four blocks, Murphy followed a dunk by Amir Coffey with a slam of his own that stretched Minnesota’s lead to 92-87 with 2:51 remaining in the second extra period to send the Gophers (17-7, 5-6 Big Ten) on their way. Murphy is averaging an even 10 points per game, fifth-most on the team.

“I’ve always really thought a lot of him,” Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffrey said. “When he came into the league last year I thought he was one of the better freshmen in our league, and I think he’s growing. He’s fitting in on a different team this year for them. They’ve got more weapons now.”

With Mason significantly improved as a junior, the freshman Coffey belying his age with flashy yet steady play on the wing and transfers Akeem Springs and Reggie Lynch rounding out the starting five, Murphy has taken on a lesser role of sorts. The 6-foot-6 native of San Antonio had been quiet for eight straight games, topping seven rebounds and eight points only once each in that stretch before Iowa came to the barn.

“I was just getting it going on the rebounding end. That’s just what led everything to get going,” Murphy said after making 10 of 13 field goal attempts . “Of course my teammates were finding me when I was open and stuff like that, and I was just really confident down the stretch.”

Murphy’s soft flip at the halftime buzzer gave the Gophers a 40-29 lead . Sneaking behind the defense for backdoor passes and leaping above the crowd to corral key rebounds, he contributed many more of the “winning plays” Pitino implored his team to produce after blowing double-digit leads and losing close home games earlier this season Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland.

“I didn’t run a play for him. He didn’t make any jump shots,” Pitino said. “I made that comment that he’s not a great scorer, and that’s not a knock on him. He’s got to go find his, and that other part will definitely evolve. He just found it tonight.”