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Men's basketball: Gophers bounce back, beat Western Carolina

By Marcus R. FullerSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota coach Richard Pitino benched starting forward Joey King for not running the right play ith five-tenths of a second left before halftime in the Gophers' 84-64 victory over Western ...

By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota coach Richard Pitino benched starting forward Joey King for not running the right play ith five-tenths of a second left before halftime in the Gophers’ 84-64 victory over Western Carolina on Friday night.
The 6-foot-9 junior couldn’t swing the ball, so he drove the baseline and had his shot blocked.
The Gophers coach told King to just “sit down.”
Point guard DeAndre Mathieu also had intense conversation with his head coach before taking a seat in the first half.
It started off as a frustrating night for the Gophers, who led their lowly Southern Conference opponent 39-38 at halftime.
But Western Carolina (3-6) was worn out by Minnesota’s pressure in the end - and King and Mathieu responded to Pitino’s benching.
Mathieu tied Carlos Morris with a team-high 16 points to go with six assists. King had 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.
The Gophers (6-2), who scored 29 points on 24 turnovers, have bounced back from a humbling loss to St. John’s in New York to win three straight games.
The Catamounts shot 53 percent in the first half Friday night and had a surprising 19-4 rebounding edge against their Big Ten opponent.
But Morris kept Minnesota in control early with nine points on 4-for-4 shooting in the first half.
Pitino wasn’t happy with a few of his starters in the first half, and it was clear as he paced the sideline.
Leading scorer Andre Hollins, who had 27 points on a career-high seven three-pointers in Tuesday’s 84-69 win at Wake Forest, had to sit because foul trouble.
The Gophers aren’t deep enough in the backcourt right now to replace Hollins and Mathieu in foul trouble. The suspension of sophomore guard Daquein McNeil cost Pitino a player who averaged nearly 19 minutes.
Hollins picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second half but wasn’t subbed out. Keeping him in the game turned out to be a smart move as Hollins eventually gave Minnesota a 50-43 lead with 13:06 remaining. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.
Mathieu was called for his third foul a minute later, but he remained on the floor.
While Pitino tried to send a message in the first half by benching his starters, he let them play through mistakes in the second half.
The Barn crowd responded with some life when Mathieu flexed his muscles on the baseline after drawing a foul on layup at 10:33. His three-point play gave the Gophers a 10-point lead and the momentum.
King nailed a three-pointer late in the second half to make it 74-57.
Minnesota’s bench isn’t deep, so it can’t afford for a few starters to get on coach’s bad side at the same time.
Only seven players averaged more than 10 minutes a game entering Friday, including freshman guard Nate Mason and senior center Elliott Eliason off the bench.
Mason had his fifth double-figure scoring game this season with 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting from three-point range and five assists.
Western Carolina was the start of a six-game home stretch for the Gophers before Big Ten play opens Dec. 31 at Purdue.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service

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