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Men's basketball: Gophers top Seattle to win sixth straight

By Marcus R. FullerSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Gophers players were scratching their heads with bewilderment in the locker room last week when they heard that Incarnate Word upset Nebraska. But that was just one of a few bad losses for ...

Elliott Eliason
Minnesota center Elliott Eliason, left, grabs a rebound against Seattle on Friday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. USA TODAY Sports

By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - Gophers players were scratching their heads with bewilderment in the locker room last week when they heard that Incarnate Word upset Nebraska.
But that was just one of a few bad losses for the Big Ten this year to lower-level programs that might require a Google search just to find out they actually compete in Division I basketball.
Knock the University of Minnesota’s cupcake-heavy nonconference schedule all you want, but second-year coach Richard Pitino’s team has handled its business against lesser opponents.
It didn’t take long for DeAndre Mathieu to set the tone defensively and find his teammates in transition Friday night, finishing with nine assists and six steals in a 92-57 victory over Seattle at Williams Arena.
Junior Carlos Morris had a career-high 19 points for the Gophers (9-2), who extended their winning streak to six games.
This college basketball season already has proven that just winning games, regardless of the opponent, should be appreciated.
Nebraska and Michigan both were ranked at one time this year. But the Cornhuskers lost to a former Division II team, and the Wolverines fell to the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Eastern Michigan at home.
The Gophers have defeated Western Carolina by 20 points, North Dakota by 36, Southern by 28 and Seattle by 35.
They’ve also averaged 88 points in those four games.
Minnesota hasn’t been tested since the NIT Tip-Off over the Thanksgiving holiday in New York.
St. John’s, now ranked No. 20 in the nation, overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half to beat Minnesota 70-61 on Nov. 26 in Madison Square Garden.
If the Gophers had pulled out that victory, they likely would be a top 25 team right now - no matter the lack of competition in the last month.
Pitino hasn’t been overly impressed with the gaudy numbers his team has produced against lesser opponents. But the Gophers came into Friday’s game leading the nation with 19.7 assists per game, while also ranking third in the country with 11.7 steals.
They surpassed both of those averages against Seattle (5-6) with 24 assists and 16 steals.
Mathieu had four steals in the first five minutes, including one that led to a highlight-reel reverse dunk by Charles Buggs on an alley-oop pass from Nate Mason.
Morris had nine of his 14 first-half points during a 23-9 run that led to a 43-21 halftime lead.
In the second half, Morris and Walker scored their team’s first 11 points to squash any comeback hopes for the RedHawks, who finished with 21 turnovers.
Andre Hollins, Mo Walker (6 for 6 field goals) and Mason had 15 points each.
Playing most of the night with a double-digit lead also allowed Pitino to give freshman center Bakary Konate extended playing time.
Konate responded with a career-high nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
The 6-foot-11 Mali native was one of two foreign post players in Minnesota’s 2014 recruiting class.
Finally joining the team Friday was 6-9, 230-pound freshman Gaston Diedhiou from Senegal.
Diedhiou wasn’t admitted in the fall, but he passed the school’s English Proficiency exam the second time recently and was officially added to the roster Thursday with walk-on guard Mike Lukashewich.
Lukashewich, a freshman from Appleton, Wis., played a few minutes. Diedhiou will have to wait until Monday’s game against Furman to make his Gophers debut.
Minnesota isn’t likely to get challenged in the final two nonconference games (including Dec. 27 against North Carolina-Wilmington) before the New Year’s Eve Big Ten opener at Purdue.
It’s hard to gauge how much blowing out teams like Seattle will help once the competition raises several notches in the Big Ten.
The Gophers’ NCAA tournament resume also took a hit with the soft schedule as their RPI and schedule strength ranked No. 83 and No. 203 before Friday.
But there should be a plus for avoiding any bad losses like some of their Big Ten counterparts.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

 

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