No. 15 Minnesota will try to avoid an emotional letdown after a huge road victory when it returns home Wednesday night to take on improving Niagara in a non-conference contest. The Golden Gophers put up 50 points and shot better than 60 percent from the field in the second half to rally for an impressive 86-74 victory in front of a raucous crowd at Providence on Monday.
“To get out of here with a win is terrific,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino told reporters after beating his alma mater. “We just showed poise in a very, very tough environment, and that’s what good teams do.” Junior forward Jordan Murphy, who was named the Big Ten player of the week Monday, has led the way during two victories for the Golden Gophers to start the season while averaging 29 points on 23-of-37 shooting and 14.5 rebounds. Murphy scored 23 and senior guard Nate Mason added 17 with just two turnovers in 33 minutes against Providence as Minnesota had another big offensive night after scoring 92 against South Carolina Upstate in the season opener. Niagara won just 10 games last season, but has its top five scorers back and beat St. Bonaventure 77-75 on Friday to open with a win for the first time since 2011-12.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network Plus
ABOUT NIAGARA (1-0): The Purple Eagles return one of the top backcourts in the MAAC with seniors Kahlil Dukes and Matt Scott, who averaged 32.5 points and drained 130 shots from behind the arc last season. Dukes made 8-of-14 from the field for 23 points against St. Bonaventure and Scott filled the stat sheet with 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the opener. Junior forward Marvin Prochet, who averaged 9.4 points last season, scored 10 and hauled in eight rebounds Friday while three other players tallied at least eight.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (2-0): Murphy along with Mason will be consistent forces on the offensive end and the Golden Gophers have plenty of other options, including senior center Reggie Lynch and sophomore guard Amir Coffey. Lynch is averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the first two games while Coffey recovered from a rough opener to score 15 with three 3-pointers against Providence. Highly-regarded freshman guard Isaiah Washington from Harlem, N.Y. also rebounded from a cold-shooting debut with eight points on 4-of-7 from the field Monday.
1. Lynch, who was second in the nation at 3.5 blocks per game last season, has swatted eight combined in the first two contests of 2017-18.
2. Niagara junior F Dominic Robb has 108 career blocks and needs two to pass Sean Schiano for seventh on the school’s all-time list.
3. The teams have split two all-time meetings and the Purple Eagles earned a 79-65 victory in the last matchup in 1973.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 82, Niagara 60