Benching captains leads to Minnesota Gophers men's basketball win over Nebraska-Omaha

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino was waiting and waiting for seniors Carlos Morris and Joey King to get his team going Friday afternoon against Nebraska-Omaha.When they didn't comply, Pitino benched the two captain...

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Minnesota Gophers center Bakary Konate, left, shoots in the first half against Mavericks forward Daniel Meyer at Williams Arena. (Photo by Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports)

MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino was waiting and waiting for seniors Carlos Morris and Joey King to get his team going Friday afternoon against Nebraska-Omaha.
When they didn’t comply, Pitino benched the two captains in the first half to deliver a message.
It worked, and the Gophers escaped with a 93-90 victory over the Mavericks at Williams Arena.
King and Morris combined for 35 points, 26 in the second half.
But Minnesota (4-2) nearly blew a seven-point lead in the final two minutes with dreadful free-throw shooting. Nate Mason went 1 for 4 from the foul line in the final 30 seconds. Jordan Murphy hit 2 of 4 free throws in the last 3.5 seconds, and that was good enough to seal it.
The Gophers, who have won 46 straight nonconference home games, avoided losing their third game before December for the first time since a 2-5 start got Dan Monson fired in the 2006-07 season.
“That may have been one of the tougher games to coach,” Pitino said. “Just because of the missed free throws. We had so many opportunities to end it, and we just kept doing it. That was a difficult one, but we found a way to win.”
It didn’t look good when Pitino replaced Morris with freshman Dupree McBrayer early in the game because of two turnovers. Morris played only nine minutes in the first half, but he had 14 of his 17 points in the second half.
“I just know I’m a senior and a captain and my team needs me,” Morris said. “I just have to be a better teammate. I just tried to play as hard as I could in the second half, do everything I can to help my team win.”
Morris said Pitino told him at halftime: “You’re a senior captain, and we don’t need to be going through this.”
“He’s definitely right,” Morris said. “That was on me. That was definitely a long sit for me. But I definitely woke up from there.”
The Gophers had big offensive production from their frontcourt for the first time this season.
Bakary Konate had his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Murphy posted a career-high 14 points and six rebounds.
But the Mavericks (3-3) outrebounded the Gophers 45-38 and outscored them 50-36 in the paint.
Omaha jumped to an 8-0 start and remained in control for most of the first half, taking a 42-41 halftime lead after shooting 56 percent from the field.
Minnesota’s defensive issues carried over from last week’s Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament, where it suffered losses to Temple and Texas Tech.
The Gophers fell behind 56-51 Friday on a three-pointer from Devin Patterson, but they used a 15-4 run to take a 66-60 lead after King’s 3-pointer at the 12-minute mark.
King was sent to the bench earlier in the game after being late on couple of defensive assignments, but he responded well. King’s fourth 3-pointer and back-to-back dunks from Murphy gave Minnesota an 85-80 lead with 3:31 left.
“It was kind of frustrating for me in the first half,” King said. “I couldn’t really focus on the game. I kept having (Pitino) in my ear a little bit. That’s just me and coach. That’s how we’ve gotten along for years. I’m glad I was able to move on from a couple poor plays and get it going in the second half.”
Chaska native Jake White, who had a team-high 23 points for Omaha, fouled out with two minutes left, and that was a turning point.
Konate’s two free throws made it 90-83, but the Gophers were outscored 6-0 to make it a one-point game after Brooklyn Park native JT Gibson’s steal and basket and two free throws from Tre’Shawn Thurman with 30 seconds left.
Mason had a chance to secure the win but missed three late free throws.
“I’m glad we won,” said Mason, who finished with 16 points and eight assists. “It wasn’t a bad miss. I missed it anyway. Just going to get back in the gym and fix my errors, so when it comes down at the end of the game again I can knock it down.”

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