Mo Walker pushes Minnesota past North Dakota 92-56
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Mo Walker has heard the message from his Minnesota coaches and teammates: Bring some more tenacity to the court to match that big frame and those smooth moves.
This game against North Dakota was the example of what that can look like.
Walker scored a career-high 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting in 23 minutes and DeAndre Mathieu had 15 points and a career-high 10 assists without a turnover to lead Minnesota past North Dakota 92-56 on Monday in the first matchup between the border-state schools in 31 years.
''When Mo's got it going, he's got it going,'' Mathieu said. ''All you've got to do is feed him.''
Walker also had seven rebounds and three blocks, and Minnesota owned a 52-22 advantage in points in the paint.
''We've definitely been talking to Mo, `Like, yo, you've got to be tougher. You've got to be more aggressive. You could be the best big man in the Big Ten, and it starts now.' So obviously he's ready to take on that role,'' said Carlos Morris, who added 14 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Joey King pitched in 12 points for the Gophers (7-2), who racked up 14 steals and six blocks and forced 25 turnovers by North Dakota (3-5). Coach Richard Pitino called this the best passing performance by his team since he took over.
The Gophers led 43-26 at halftime and didn't let UND come closer than 13 points after that. Terrel de Rouen led North Dakota with 10 points, and Jaron Nash and Estan Tyler both had eight points.
Quinton Hooker had seven points, seven assists and five rebounds for UND, which has six Minnesota natives on the roster. Hooker was the Mr. Basketball award winner in 2013 at Park Center High School, less than 15 miles from the Minnesota campus. Hooker had a loud section of supporters here, but the UND fans didn't have much to cheer about after the opening minutes.
Andre Hollins banked in a 3-pointer midway through the first half, one of many signs this was going to be Minnesota's night. He had a big grin on his face as he retreated on defense with the Gophers leading 21-12 after a 16-2 run.
The Gophers need the 6-foot-10, 255-pound Walker to take the final step in the significant progress he's made from being a once-overweight and injury-prone backup who barely got off the bench. The senior had his way with UND underneath, deftly using a series of spin moves and soft hooks to pile up the high-percentage points.
Mathieu made several sharp entry passes into the post that made Walker's job easier. North Dakota coach Brian Jones, who is 6-foot-10 and a former Northern Iowa player from the early 1990s, might have been the only option left for stopping Walker. The danger Mathieu posed with his driving ability prompted UND to focus on the perimeter than the paint, and Walker took advantage.
''What do we choose to do? Do we want to be in scramble mode all night because we're down in the post, allowing them to do what they do well in driving the ball and making the extra pass?'' Jones said.
Personality is not a coachable skill, so with laid-back players like Walker drawing out the intensity can be tough. But his teammates have been doing their best in practice.
''I get a little ticked off and I get a lot more aggressive and play a lot harder. So I'm trying to keep that mean streak going and carry it over to the court,'' Walker said.
North Dakota lost to Wisconsin in 2010 and 2013, the only other times it had faced a Big Ten team since moving up to the NCAA Division I level in 2008. UND first played Minnesota in 1914 and last faced the Gophers in 1983, a 78-73 loss as a Division II program.
''People were texting me, tweeting me, calling me and telling me they were going to the game,'' Hooker said. ''It was definitely a big game.''
For Minnesota, Mathieu has 54 assists and just 14 turnovers this season.
Minnesota is down to 10 players with the departure of freshman forward Josh Martin, whose decision to transfer was announced shortly before the game.
''It was a surprise to all of us,'' Pitino said.
Sophomore guard Daquein McNeil, another player who was expected to be a key reserve, has been suspended indefinitely following two felony charges of domestic assault. Pitino also revealed that sophomore forward Charles Buggs, who's averaging just over 10 minutes per game, is not fully healthy with a nagging knee injury.
North Dakota plays at rival North Dakota State on Saturday.
Minnesota hosts Southern University on Wednesday.