McBrayer scores 19; Minnesota beats Arkansas State 82-75
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Games are about to get much harder for Minnesota, but the Gophers look forward to the opportunity after a strong start to their season.
Dupree McBrayer scored 19 points and Minnesota held off Arkansas State 82-75 Friday in the final non-conference game for both teams.
Jordan Murphy added 15 points and eight rebounds for the Gophers, whose 12-1 record before Big Ten play is its best in four seasons. Akeem Springs had 14 points and Nate Mason 12.
The Gophers enter Big Ten play with six straight wins. Last season Minnesota lost four of its final five non-conference games, including home games to South Dakota State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, before starting 0-13 in the Big Ten en route to a 2-16 conference record.
“This is our time to show what we’ve been working on,” Springs said. “We have a chance to prove it to those people we want to prove wrong.”
Minnesota, which is home to Michigan State Tuesday, was playing its first game in nine days because of final exams. The Gophers, ranked 13th nationally in rebounds per game entering the game, had seven fewer than the Red Wolves and shot 65.7 percent from the free-throw line.
“There’s times during the game where I look and say, ‘Wow, we’re pretty good.’ And then there’s times I go, ‘Wow, we’re pretty young,’” said coach Richard Pitino. “We’ve got to get better; we’ve got to stay humble.”
Devin Carter scored 23 points and Deven Simms 13 for Arkansas State (9-4), which lost its second straight.
“You turn the ball over 20 times, that makes it hard to win on the road,” said coach Grant McCasland. “We didn’t guard the ball well the first half. In the second half, I felt like we were more competitive defensively and allowed us to play in transition more.”
A 3-pointer by Carter was part of an 8-0 Red Wolves run to get within 69-64 with 4:21 to play before Springs made a 3-pointer and Coffey scored on a layup for a 10-point lead with 2 minutes to go.
Amir Coffey, the Gophers second-leading scorer at 12.4 points per game, returned after missing a game with turf toe and scored seven points. His powerful one-handed dunk off a long pass from Eric Curry was followed by a fast-break layup by Mason to put Minnesota up 55-38 with 12:25 to play, its biggest lead.
Arkansas State: The Red Wolves entered the game shooting 39.5 percent from outside the arc, were 7-for-21. Carter, who made 10 treys Dec. 14 against Tennessee-Martin, is 6-for-31 in three games since, including 2-for-12 Friday.
Minnesota: A 12-1 start is nice, but the Gophers know they must continue to improve. “You can see our growth as a collective unit,” Springs said. “Even from the start of the season, small mistakes we may have made earlier when it’s winning time you can see us make some of those plays.”
Minnesota had 19 assists on 26 baskets, seven from Mason. The Gophers are averaging just under 20 assists per contest in their last four games.
“I keep telling (Mason), ‘Why not be one of the best guards in the Big Ten?’ He’s starting to show and playing with great confidence taking care of the ball,” Pitino said, while also lauding Coffey and McBrayer. “For those guys, it’s kind of contagious the way they pass the ball and find each other.”
Arkansas State was whistled for 29 fouls, tied for its second-highest of the season. Minnesota was in the double-bonus midway through the first half and with 8:43 to play in the second. Tamas Bruce fouled out and Donte Thomas, Salif Boudie and Simms each had four.
Arkansas State: After five straight games away from home, the Red Wolves welcome Louisiana for a New Year’s Eve tilt to open Sun Belt Conference play.
Minnesota: Opens Big Ten action with a home game against Michigan State Tuesday.