“He did it with sheer will,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “He just got it done the old-fashioned way.”
Murphy, third in the nation in rebounding, had 14 points and 11 rebounds in the second half alone. Meanwhile, Amir Coffey scored all 16 of his points after the break as Minnesota (9-3) shot 62 percent in the second half to rally from a nine-point deficit.
Ore Arogundade led the Bulldogs (5-5) with 15 points, while Graham Woodward added 15 and De’Antae McMurray 12.
Coming off consecutive double-digit losses at Nebraska and Arkansas that knocked them out of the Top 25, the Gophers came out flat, shooting just 30 percent in the first half as they fell behind by eight early.
“We were playing with the weight of the world on our shoulders,” said Murphy, who made 11 of 14 shots from the floor. “The pressure of winning this game today was something we had in the back of our minds.”
The Gophers missed their first six shots while 3-pointers by Woodward, McMurray and Noah Thomas gave Drake an 11-3 lead. But after a timeout, Murphy scored eight straight points for Minnesota to tie it at 11.
Drake threatened to run away in the second half as McMurray and Thomas hit 3-pointers, and Reed Timmer sank three free throws to build a 41-32 lead. But again, Murphy responded with eight straight points, the final four on monster dunks that energized a crowd that previously hadn’t had much to cheer about.
Dupree McBrayer’s 3-pointer with nine minutes to play gave Minnesota its first lead, 50-47. His steal and dunk gave the Gophers their largest lead at 61-54.
Woodward, a senior from nearby Edina, Minnesota, hit a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer to cut Minnesota’s lead to 64-62 with two minutes to play. Murphy again came through, scoring off an offensive rebound and adding another bucket in the low post.
Minnesota had the ball and a six-point lead twice in the final 30 seconds but almost gave the game away. First McBrayer stepped out of bounds along the sideline. Then after a Drake turnover, Gophers forward Michael Hurt missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 12 seconds left.
Arogundade drove the lane to score on the other end, and Minnesota turned it over on the inbounds pass. The ball ended up in the hands of Woodward, who hit a 3-pointer, but the clock ran out.
“I think it’s better to learn from a win than from a loss,” Murphy said. “It’s definitely a learning experience for us.”
Drake: Medved is a Minnesota native and alumnus, having served as a student manager under former Gophers coach Clem Haskins. Returning to Williams Arena in his first year at Drake, his squad certainly gave a team that is presumed to be a Big Ten contender all it could handle.
Minnesota: The Gophers didn’t want to head into their 10-day finals break with a bad taste in their mouths. Mission partly accomplished. Minnesota got the win, but in a frustratingly ugly fashion for coach Richard Pitino.
“It was a great wake-up call for us,” Pitino said. “We needed it, as painful as it was. It was like going to the dentist. But we needed that. We found a way to win.
PACE OF PLAY
Minnesota and Drake are both in the top 50 in the nation in scoring, with the Gophers averaging 86.5 points per game and the Bulldogs checking in at 83.1. So what was up with that first half, which ended with Drake leading 28-24?
“Everybody thought this was going to be a high-scoring game, but I thought we did a good job of setting the tempo the way we needed it,” Drake coach Niko Medved said. “We got back in transition on defense, we made them a half-court team, and I think we were able to contain their penetration early and make them a jump-shooting team.”