The ball smoothly slid through the net as guard Dupree McBrayer buried a critical three-pointer on the Williams Arena hardwood. Everyone in the building rose to their feet as the senior guard played Tuesday night for one of the most important people in his life. McBrayer lost his mother, Tarya, to cancer earlier this week. Despite the tragedy, he decided to suit up Wednesday night in memory of her. The entire Gophers' team was playing with McBrayer in the back of their minds. Even the Nebraska Cornhuskers wore warmup shirts to honor McBrayer's mother, too.
“[Before the game], I just said play as hard as you possibly can for Dupree,” head Richard Pitino said after the game.
When they faced the adversity of a 13-point deficit, Minnesota fought. As McBrayer hit a shot to trim Nebraska’s lead to three points, everyone in the building was thinking about him, including his head coach.
“Every time he shot it, I was just dying for the thing to go in for him and then he hits that three at the top of the key,” Pitino said.
Pitino spent time with McBrayer’s mother, Tarya McFarlane during the process of coaching and recruiting Dupree. This summer, he talked with Tarya, who was set to retire after working her job for 30 years. The conversation is something that never left Pitino’s mind.
“It’s heartbreaking to see. She was a great lady and one of my favorite moms and she was supportive…she raised a great kid, I don’t care about basketball,” Pitino said. “She told me over the summer, she said, ‘coach, I’m retiring.’ I said, ‘why?’ I want to see Dupree play his senior year.”
It was an emotional night for the Gophers as they played for a teammate overcoming the loss of his mother earlier this week. Minnesota showed intensity in the second half to claim a much-needed emotional victory. Amir Coffey took control of a game played in memory of McBrayer’s mother.
When Minnesota needed it most, Coffey drew a defensive charge and buried a long three-pointer. The energy coursed through Williams Arena as the critical trey put Minnesota up by four points with just over two minutes left. Coffey scored 32 points, exceeding the career-high mark (30 points) he set against St. John’s as a freshman. The junior guard had 32 points, six rebounds and six assists in the Gophers’ 85-78 comeback win.
As the buzzer sounded, players embraced McBrayer on the floor. It was certainly a moment his biggest fan was watching from above.
“That was in the back of our minds tonight,” senior Jordan Murphy said. “I think everybody got emotional at the end of the game…we were so proud of him. To do what he’s doing right now is next to impossible, I mean I can’t imagine what he’s going through…I’m just proud of him…he’s definitely one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known.”
It was not only a special night for the team, but an important win for the Gophers’ future. With an experienced Nebraska team traveling to Williams Arena, the Gophers faced an early test. The Huskers are ranked No. 22 by KenPom and No. 24 in the Associated Press poll. Nebraska used timely three-point shooting and second chance opportunities to grab a 13-point lead in the first half.
The Gophers have put together inconsistent stretches of play this season, but managed to overcome those issues on Wednesday night. It was largely because Coffey took control of the game.
Nebraska opened the game on a 12-2 run with several easy baskets around the rim. James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. drilled three-pointers, one of which came off a transition opportunity. The Huskers had a trio of three pointers within the first five minutes by using excellent ball movement and pace. Minnesota was a step slow closing out behind the arc and there were several miscommunications regarding matchup assignments. When Jordan Murphy was tasked with switching in the paint, there was no replacement on numerous occasions. The help defense wasn’t strong either and led to easy baskets. There hasn’t been a consistent level of intensity on defense with this Gophers team and it has led to easy baskets and open three-pointers.
Amir Coffey got the offense going with a deflection and transition layup. He followed it up with a three-pointer and massive dunk attempt. Coffey scored 11 consecutive points and was extra aggressive in transition and off the dribble. It showed as nine of those points were the result of made free throw attempts. It helped Minnesota go on an 11-1 first half run over 3:04. During the same stretch, Nebraska went scoreless for almost four minutes. It helped the Gophers claim a four-point advantage near the five-minute mark of the first half. However, the Huskers ended the half on a 12-2 run and Minnesota had four turnovers during the final four minutes. This season, the Gophers have shown stretches of brilliance for roughly five minutes, but occasionally revert back to poor play.
Minnesota trailed 44-39 at the half and Nebraska continued to extend the lead through easy points in the paint. Minnesota’s block outs weren’t solid and the Huskers managed to take advantage of it. Nebraska’s guards also hit timely three-pointers throughout the night. Isaac Copeland Jr. drilled a pair of shots from behind the arc and the Huskers led by 11 points early in the second half. The combination of inconsistent perimeter defense, poor help in the paint and second chance opportunities, helped Nebraska hang around. Minnesota also didn’t take care of the basketball and it led to easy transition baskets or trailing threes. The Huskers took advantage of Minnesota’s slow help side defense and poor rotations. They accumulated 36 points in the paint, including 18 second chance points. Not only that, but the Huskers had 16 fast break points off 13 Minnesota turnovers. The Gophers managed to clean things up down the stretch, which fueled their comeback.
The efforts of Amir Coffey were the difference. When the Gophers get on the run, Coffey can attack and put stress on an opposing defense. He had an important string of 18 second half points, including an emphatic finish at the rim for a three-point play. Coffey’s late three-pointer shifted the entire balance of the game in favor of Minnesota.
The late surge helped the Gophers claim a much-needed victory over an experienced Nebraska team. Minnesota escaped early Big Ten play with a 1-1 record and protected its home court. More importantly they completed a special win for a teammate overcoming a personal tragedy.
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Tag(s): Gopher Basketball