MINNEAPOLIS --The official first impression of the Gophers men’s basketball team had a long-distance focus Tuesday, Nov. 5.
As Minnesota focuses in on finding a new identity with seven newcomers, the Gophers' first five shots were 3-pointers, and they didn’t stop hoisting from deep in a 85-50 season-opening win over Cleveland State at Williams Arena.
The Gophers were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation last season but made 13 of 29 (44.8 percent) on Tuesday, with the makes tying for fourth-most in program history. Payton Willis was the hottest, making 5 for 8, while Marcus Carr was 3 for 9 and Gabe Kalscheur 3 for 8.
But for a team that believes 3-point shooting will be one of its strengths, Gophers coach Richard Pitino said they weren’t “hunting shots.”
Minnesota easily dispatched Cleveland State, which was picked to finish last in the 10-team mid-major Horizon League, according to the conference’s preseason poll. The Vikings have a first-time head coach in Dennis Gates, and were flummoxed by the unknowns that come with an inconclusive scouting report.
Carr, a transfer from Pittsburgh, led Minnesota with 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Willis, a transfer from Vanderbilt, had 17 points and eight assists. With those new starters, along with forward Alihan Demir from Drexel, Pitino was boosted by how they didn’t look like they were feeling each other out in their first competitive game together.
“I was very encouraged by the chemistry on the court,” Pitino said. “That did not look like a team that hadn’t played together. When you have so many new players, that could be a factor. You get some rust off, but I felt like they were really connected out there offensively.”
Center Daniel Oturu had 16 points, 10 rebounds, with career highs in both blocks (five) and turnovers (six).
The Gophers took a 38-21 halftime lead, with Oturu leading the way with 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Carr and Willis each had nine points and at least four assists.
Minnesota made 37 percent from deep (7 of 19), and that comprised more than 65 percent of their total shots (19 of 29) in the first half. The Gophers’ first five shots from deep came as Cleveland State gave those looks with a zone defense.
“We are very confident on our ability to shoot the ball as a team, so coming out, we kind of expected them to be in zone, so we weren’t surprised at all by it, and as you could see, we came out with shots fired,” Carr said.
The Gophers’ schedule will get tougher, starting this weekend with a neutral-site game against Oklahoma in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Saturday and then trips to Indianapolis to play Butler on Nov. 12 and Salt Lake City to play Utah on Nov. 15.