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Freshman leads Gophers over Clemson

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jordan Murphy was the spark for the Gophers basketball team Monday night against Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The 6-foot-6 freshman made the University of Minnesota student section come alive with a high-flying putback dun...

MINNEAPOLIS - Jordan Murphy was the spark for the Gophers basketball team Monday night against Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The 6-foot-6 freshman made the University of Minnesota student section come alive with a high-flying putback dunk in the first half during a rally. His second career three-pointer helped cut a 10-point deficit to just one just before halftime.

Yet on each occasion, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino immediately sent Murphy to the bench.

Defense was the reason for taking him out, but Murphy’s offense was too good to keep him off the floor for long, as he finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds in Minnesota’s 89-83 win over the Tigers at Williams Arena.

“He’s a really unique kid,” Pitino said. “I thought he could be one of those face of the program guys.”

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The Gophers (5-2), who extended their nonconference home winning streak to 47 games, gave up 14 three-pointers and allowed Clemson to shoot 54 percent from the field. It was the third time this season an opponent hit double-digit three-pointers.

But Minnesota made it tough for Clemson offensively as well, shooting 54 percent from the field.

Joey King and Nate Mason added 17 points apiece for the Gophers.

The Tigers (4-2) took an eight-point lead to open the second half, but they were outscored 10-0 after Mason’s two free throws gave the Gophers a 48-46 lead.

Back-to-back three-pointers helped Clemson take control again 55-50, but then the Tigers went without a basket from long range for nearly six minutes.

At that point, Murphy took over again.

The San Antonio native soared above the defense to score on a putback plus the foul at the 11-minute mark. His free throw gave the Gophers a two-point lead. They never trailed after that.

Murphy’s defense improved as well.

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On a Clemson possession late in the second half, Murphy came from behind for a blocked shot on 6-10 Landry Nnoko.

The Gophers didn’t get any scoring inside from starting center Bakary Konate, who had his first career double-double last week with 14 points and 10 rebounds in a 93-90 win over Nebraska-Omaha.

Murphy had the first double-digit scoring game of his career with 14 points against Omaha; he scored 12 of those in the second half.

It was the first sign that Murphy could be a go-to post presence.

The former Virginia Commonwealth recruit had 19 points and nine rebounds during his first exhibition game, but Pitino labeled him “low-motor Murph” because he didn’t always play with a lot of energy.

That wasn’t the case Monday night as Murphy scored 12 points in the first half coming off the bench.

Minnesota changed its starting lineup with Dupree McBrayer replacing Charles Buggs, but Pitino quickly switched back to Buggs in the first couple of minutes.

Buggs scored a career-high 15 points on 3-for-6 shooting from three-point range.

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Clemson had a formidable front line led by Jaron Blossomgame, who finished with 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

Jordan Roper had 25 points on 5-for-9 shooting from three-point range for the Tigers, but they had no answer for Murphy down the stretch.

Blossomgame’s three-pointer cut Minnesota’s lead to 74-70 with 2:44 remaining, but Murphy responded by driving baseline to throw down an emphatic two-handed dunk.

Blossomgame answered with another three, but Murphy came from out of nowhere to tip in a missed jumper from King for an 80-73 lead with 1:10 left in the second half.

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