Coffey, balanced attack lead Minnesota past S. Illinois
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Richard Pitino wants to make sure his players aren’t reading too much into their 6-0 record.
After impressive wins against St. John’s and Arkansas, some Minnesota players said they expected an easier time against mid-major Southern Illinois.
“You can’t overlook anybody; we can’t do that,” Pitino said Saturday night after his Gophers beat Southern Illinois 57-45. “We should be a no-ego program. We have not earned the right to have an ego.”
Amir Coffey had 13 points, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer each scored 11 against the scrappy Salukis, who never led in the second half but always seemed within striking distance.
With upcoming games against Florida State and Vanderbilt in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge next week, the Gophers acknowledged they may have gotten ahead of themselves.
“Came out flat, thinking it was going to be an easy game,” McBrayer said. “So we’ve just got to have the mindset that every game is going to be like a Big Ten game, or a Big Ten feel.”
The Gophers (6-0) won despite missing starting center Reggie Lynch, who sat with an ankle injury. Even without the 6-foot-10 Lynch — who’s averaging nine points and 3.6 blocks per game — the Gophers’ size advantage ground down a Salukis team that entered the game averaging 81 points per game.
Minnesota’s much taller backcourt held Mike Rodriguez — SIU’s leading scorer — to seven points, half his season average. Thik Bol led The Salukis (3-3) with 15 points, but no other Southern Illinois player had more than seven.
“This game tonight was two ends of the spectrum,” Salukis coach Barry Hinson said. “We played phenomenal defense and then we played, I wouldn’t say bad offense, but we just didn’t produce when the shots were there.”
Southern Illinois led by four in the first half before hitting an eight-minute scoring drought. The Gophers took advantage, ripping off a 12-0 run that put them in front for good.
Southern Illinois: The Salukis, who didn’t lose their third game last season until Jan. 9 against Wichita State, had their three-game winning streak snapped and are 0-2 against major-conference teams this season. They lost to Arkansas by 25 earlier this month, and will have at least one more chance to beat a major team this year at Louisville on Dec. 7.
Minnesota: The Gophers are 6-0 for the first time since the 2011-12 season. All six games, though, have come at home; it marks the first time since 1999 that Minnesota has opened with six straight home games. They went 6-0 that year, too.
Minnesota made a season-low 12 free throws on 22 attempts, which played a big part in allowing Southern Illinois to hang around.
“You know what happens, you miss a couple and then all of a sudden everybody gets a little tight,” Pitino said.
SILVER DEFENSIVE LININGS
Hinson called the game Southern Illinois’ best defensive performance of the young season. “We just held a Big Ten team to 18 percent from the 3 and 38 percent for the game and we are the first team to do that in their six games. We are the first team to hold them under 80 points,” Hinson said.
Southern Illinois will host Murray State next Tuesday; the Racers will try to snap a two-game skid Saturday against Alabama A&M.
Minnesota travels for the first time this season to face Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. “It gets a lot tougher now going on the road, so we’ll see how we look with more adversity I guess,” Pitino said.