Minnesota welcomed a nine-day break after a difficult first month and hopes to come back more like the team that opened the season when it hosts Oral Roberts on Thursday night. The Golden Gophers started the campaign with seven straight wins, including victories over Providence and Alabama, before struggling to just two victories in their last five and falling out of the top 25.
The physical and mental rest was needed after edging Drake 68-67 last time out on Dec. 11 and Minnesota coach Richard Pitino told the Star Tribune, “This has been the toughest 12 games. … Our confidence obviously isn’t great right now.” The Golden Gophers allowed 67.3 points per game in the first six games of the season and have allowed almost 80 in the six contests since, but they were able to rally from nine points down to knock off Drake. “Better learning from a win than a loss,” Minnesota junior forward Jordan Murphy, who has 12 straight double-doubles, told the Star Tribune. “It’s definitely a learning experience for us and keeps our young guys motivated. We have some great talent on the bench. They just need to get that confidence back that they had.” Oral Roberts dropped a 104-69 decision to Arkansas on Tuesday after winning two straight contests.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network Plus
ABOUT ORAL ROBERTS (4-10): The Golden Eagles shot 52.7 percent from the field against Arkansas but turned the ball over 27 times after posting consecutive wins over Florida Gulf Coast and Missouri State. Senior center Albert Owens (13.4) leads the team in scoring but is 15-of-41 from the field over the last four games, while sophomore forward Emmanuel Nzekwesi (12.4) combined for 46 points the last two contests. Sophomore forward Javan White (11.1 points, team-high 8.8 rebounds) and freshman guard R.J. Fuqua (16-of-40 from 3-point range) have also been productive.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (9-3): Murphy has the been the No. 1 option all season, averaging 20.3 points and a nation-best 13 rebounds, but the Golden Gophers have three other players scoring in double figures. Senior guard Nate Mason (15.5 points, 4.6 assists) has struggled shooting in the last three games (13-for-41) while sophomore guard Amir Coffey has averaged 17 points the past three to push his season mark to 14.3. Senior center Reggie Lynch (10.7 points) entered Wednesday second in the nation in blocks (4.3) and eighth in the Big Ten in rebounds (8.1).
1. Minnesota junior G Dupree McBrayer, who averaged 11.2 points last season, is 10-for-33 from the field in four games since returning from a leg infection.
2. Oral Roberts senior G Austin Ruder, who is averaging 11.5 points, is expected to miss his seventh straight game with a shoulder injury.
3. The Golden Gophers have not faced Oral Roberts since New Year’s Eve 2005 when they earned a 67-54 victory at home.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 84, Oral Roberts 66