Gophers forward Eric Curry (24) and forward Jordan Murphy (3) block a shot at Williams Arena (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)
Brad Rempel/Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS — After losing more games last season than any other team in the 121-year history of Minnesota's program, the Gophers have played like a totally different group.
That's because they are, for the most part.
Amir Coffey scored all 19 of his points in the second half, after Akeem Springs made three 3-pointers over the final 5 minutes of the first half to finish with 11 points and help Minnesota pull away for an 85-71 victory over Arkansas on Tuesday night.
“They should be confident. They've worked hard,” coach Richard Pitino said. “They've stayed humble throughout a tough offseason, and they've just been eager to get back to proving themselves on and off the court.”
Nate Mason had 13 points and seven assists, Eric Curry added 12 points and Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy each added 10 points for the Gophers (5-0), who won their first five games to start a season for the first time in three years. With transfers Springs and Lynch and freshmen Coffey and Curry, there's a new look and some new life to this team after a miserable 8-23 finish.
“What the team went through last year, I think that matured everyone,” Springs said.
Dusty Hannahs scored 20 points and Moses Kingsley had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Razorbacks (3-1), whose first road trip of the season was rough. They didn't make a 3-pointer until Hannahs hit one at the 4-minute mark and finished 1 for 8 after entering the game 24 for 54 from behind the arc (44.9 percent).
Their 21 turnovers were their most since March 21, 2015, an NCAA tournament loss to North Carolina, and they had only six fast-break points after tallying 51 over the first three games. The Gophers had a 26-9 edge in points off turnovers.
“We've just been being really sloppy,” Hannahs said. “It hasn't been like this is a random occurrence.”
The Gophers started slowly, but the Razorbacks missed nine of their first 10 shots from the floor and were outscored 25-6 over a stretch of more than 10 minutes. Springs swished two more 3-pointers after that run in the closing minutes of the first half, and the Gophers led by at least 14 points for the rest of the game.
The freshman Coffey had 30 points on Friday against St. John's and after a quiet first half got the crowd going with an array of fast-break dunks and slick layups plus a 3-pointer that gave the Gophers a 67-46 lead to match their largest of the game.
“Everybody knew he was struggling, so everybody kept going to him and encouraging him,” Mason said. “That shows the unselfishness for our team.”
Curry, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, who was recruited by the Razorbacks, went 8 for 8 from the free-throw line.
HEY, WE PLAYED THEM TOO
Both Arkansas and Minnesota have already beaten Texas-Arlington, the team picked to win the Sun Belt Conference in a preseason coaches' poll. The Gophers beat the Mavericks 84-67 on Nov. 14, and the Razorbacks edged UTA 71-67 on Friday.
Arkansas: A team picked to finish fifth in the preseason SEC media poll that tapped Kingsley as the player of the year, the Razorbacks must make some significant improvements to be competitive in a Dec. 17 game against No. 22 Texas. With an influx of junior-college transfers, chemistry is a work in progress.
“They're still learning how to play with one another,” coach Mike Anderson said.
Minnesota: After finishing as the third-worst team in the Big Ten in defense last season, with the second-highest percentage of 3-pointers allowed, the Gophers have been markedly better, beginning with the fundamentals of cutting off baseline drives and rotating over to help. Lynch's shot-blocking presence is a big boost too.
“Once you're getting stops, it makes the game a little bit easier for everyone,” Springs said.
Arkansas returns home on Monday to host Mount St. Mary's, the first of five straight home games.
Minnesota hosts Southern Illinois on Friday, before the first road game on Monday at Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.