Lynch just misses triple-double in No. 14 Minnesota’s win
Reggie Lynch had a chance for one of the rarest triple-doubles, but Niagara spoiled it.
“They just shot 3s and they didn’t even let me get it,” Lynch laughed.
But the 6-foot-10 Minnesota senior center still finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocked shots in perhaps the best game of his career Wednesday night as the No. 14 Golden Gophers outgunned the Purple Eagles 107-81 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Lynch also had six assists as Minnesota (3-0) survived big runs by Niagara (1-1) in each half with longer, bigger runs of its own.
“The biggest miracle was the six assists,” joked Golden Gophers coach Richard Pitino. “He must have paid off the stat people. I was hoping he would get the extra block, but I didn’t want to leave him in any longer than I had to.”
All five starters scored in double figures for Minnesota, partly a function of how well it clicked offensively after a slow start and partly a function of the Purple Eagles playing toe to toe with it for about 32 minutes.
Playing its first game against a ranked team in five years, Niagara established 12-2 and 25-15 leads, appearing ready to run with Minnesota all night long. The backcourt of Kahlil Dukes and Matt Scott lived up to its billing as one of the best in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Dukes sank five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 24 points. Scott delivered 17 points and 11 rebounds, making him one of five players in the game to end with double-doubles.
But Pitino, whose team posted a tough 86-74 decision Monday night at Providence, didn’t sense any sort of flatness.
“I thought we were competing, but we weren’t executing,” he said. “I thought they hit some tough shots.”
When the Purple Eagles cooled a bit, Minnesota made its move. It ended the first half with a 14-2 spurt, Lynch capping it with a layup with 1:03 left to give the Golden Gophers a 48-38 advantage at halftime.
Minnesota expanded the lead to 65-48 with 14:35 remaining in the game on a tip-in by Jordan Murphy. But just when the expected blowout was developing, Niagara responded with an 18-3 run fueled largely by 14 straight points from Dukes.
James Towns’ 12-footer with 8:43 left pulled the Purple Eagles within 68-66, but the Golden Gophers hit the figurative X button with 17 consecutive points in just over three minutes.
A close game finally reached laugher status at the end as Minnesota hit the century mark with 1:01 left on a Devonte Fitzgerald layup.
“We knew that Dukes was going to come out gunning and he did exactly that,” Lynch said. “But we finally took away the 3 and locked down defensively.”
Murphy finished with 18 points and 11 boards for his third straight double-double. Amir Coffey added a season-high 18 points, and Nate Mason tacked on a 15-point, 11-assists double-double. Dupree McBrayer contributed 13 points.
Marvin Prochet collected 10 points and 12 rebounds for Niagara, which got only six points from reserves before the meaningless last couple of minutes.
NOTES: Minnesota F Jordan Murphy was named Big Ten Conference Player of the Week after scoring a career-high 35 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in Friday night’s 92-77 win over USC Upstate. ... No. 14 Minnesota is the highest-ranked opponent Niagara has played since 2007, when it absorbed a 107-67 loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against No. 2 Kansas. ... Minnesota senior G Nate Mason is on the watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s top point guard.