Balanced attack leads No. 14 Minnesota past Niagara
By Patrick Donnelly
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Amir Coffey, Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy all scored 18 points as No. 14 Minnesota pulled away from Niagara for a 107-81 victory on Wednesday night.
Lynch and Murphy posted double-doubles, with Lynch grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds and Murphy checking in with 11. Nate Mason added 15 points and 11 assists for the Golden Gophers (3-0).
Kahlil Dukes hit five 3-pointers and led Niagara (1-1) with 26 points. Matt Scott added 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Marvin Prochet had 10 points and 12 boards for the Purple Eagles.
Niagara raced to a 12-2 lead and kept Minnesota at bay for much of the first half, thanks in large part to its outside shooting. The Purple Eagles were 6 of 9 from 3-point range to start the game before missing their final four of the first half.
Meanwhile, Minnesota shook off a 1-for-8 start from the field, with Coffey and Mason hitting back-to-back 3-pointers before Lynch took over inside. The 6-foot-10 senior gave the Gophers their first lead with a hook shot, making it 36-34.
That triggered a 14-2 run that put Minnesota in control, with the Gophers leading 48-38 at halftime.
Murphy, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, was held scoreless through the first 10 minutes and finished the first half with just two points. But he came on strong out of the break, showcasing his diverse offensive skills in the process. Murphy drove through traffic for a layup, leaked out for a slam dunk on a fast break, and knocked down a baseline jumper for six quick points.
But the Purple Eagles roared back with a 14-0 run that included 11 straight points by Dukes. The senior guard hit two 3s and three free throws in that span as Niagara whittled Minnesota’s lead from 17 to just three midway through the second half.
The Gophers answered with a 17-0 run that included two 3s by Dupree McBrayer and a thunderous slam by Murphy off an alley-oop feed by Michael Hurt and Minnesota pulled away from there.
Niagara: The hot start and second-half comeback show that the veteran Purple Eagles won’t be intimidated by a highly ranked opponent. But their reserves contributed just six points before coach Chris Casey emptied the bench in the waning minutes. Niagara’s starting five is going to need more help if it wants to compete in the MAAC.
Minnesota: Point guard Nate Mason was a force when he was on the court, running the Gophers’ offense with a level head and picking his spots to attack the rim or pull up from outside. He proved once again that he’s one of the top guards in the nation.
Niagara: The Purple Eagles return to action on Sunday at UMass. The noon game is part of the Barclays Center Classic.
Minnesota: The Gophers host Western Carolina on Sunday afternoon.