Lynch, Murphy lead Minnesota past Northern Illinois 77-57
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — An off-court investigation and ankle injury slowed down Reggie Lynch earlier this year.
Now his coach believes the redshirt junior is one of the Big Ten’s best players in the middle.
Lynch and Jordan Murphy each had a double-double and Minnesota pulled away to beat Northern Illinois 77-57 Sunday.
Lynch scored 11 of his career-high tying 18 points in the second half. His 11 rebounds were two off a career best.
Murphy had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota (10-1). Nate Mason finished with 11 points and Akeem Springs and Dupree McBrayer had 10.
“I played pretty good, but everyone all around did very well,” Lynch said.
Accused of sexual assault in May and not allowed to practice with the team until it was announced in August he would not be charged with a crime, Lynch, who transferred from Illinois State, also missed the Nov. 25 game with an injured ankle.
“He just needs as many reps as he can, but I thought he was terrific today,” said coach Richard Pitino. “To me, I think he’s one of the better centers in the league. . He’s a game-changer for us.”
Lynch feels like he’s had a groove the whole time.
“I know how to play the game,” he said. “My teammates are finding me and everyone is playing really well. Even if I’m in a little bit of pain on defense or trying to score I know my team has my back.”
Lynch and Murphy combined for 12 of Minnesota’s first 21 second-half points as the Gophers, who led by six at the break, built a 50-38 lead. Springs, who played two seasons at Northern Illinois, had a 3-pointer and layup in that stretch.
“I thought that Lynch, he came out and it seemed like he wouldn’t miss a shot in the first half. We tried to slow him down in the second half, but it just wasn’t enough,” said Northern Illinois coach Mark Montgomery.
The Huskies (4-5) lost for the fourth time in five games. They were led by Marshawn Wilson’s 19 points. Dontel Highsmith had 10.
Northern Illinois has lost 14 straight games to Big Ten opponents since Dec. 14, 1999.
Minnesota finished with a 48-28 rebounding advantage and was 25-for-30 from the free-throw line after entering the game with a 67.8 percent rate.
Minnesota finished with 17 assists on 24 baskets.
“I think our whole team is really, really willing passers,” Pitino said. “They’re very unselfish. . They look like they’re having fun together. They’re constantly looking to share the ball.”
A smattering of cheers could be heard when Northern Illinois’ Wilson made a play. He went to high school about 10 miles from Williams Arena and was a finalist for the state’s 2015 Mr. Basketball award. He had 13 points in his first six games before Sunday.
Northern Illinois: The Huskies need to shoot better away from the basket. Northern Illinois had zero points outside the paint in the first half and finished with 10. The Huskies were 2-for-11 on 3-point attempts.
Minnesota: The Gophers, who struggled in a 74-68 win over the New Jersey Institute of Technology on Wednesday but beat Georgia Southern by 37 on Friday, continue to seek offensive consistency. They shot just 30 percent in the first half despite a 5-for-21 start, but 53.6 percent in the second 20 minutes.
Northern Illinois: Plays its only home game in a 35-day stretch Wednesday against Olivet Nazarene. The Huskies have four road games in that span.
Minnesota: The Gophers are home Wednesday against LIU Brooklyn before a nine-day layoff for final exams.