Pitino's Gophers surge past UMKC in second half
MINNEAPOLIS -- The shots were clanking and the Kangaroos were rolling, putting Minnesota in danger of joining Wisconsin and Illinois on the list of Big Ten teams to be upset by small schools on their home floor on opening night.
Then coach Richard Pitino went small and Joey King let it rip.
King hit six 3-pointers and scored a career-high 22 points and Minnesota pulled away from Missouri-Kansas City in the second half for a 76-58 victory on Friday night.
King made 7 of 10 shots overall and Carlos Morris added 13 points for the Golden Gophers, who made eight of their 12 3s in the second half.
"He's no question one of the hardest workers in our program," Pitino said of King. "He truly believes every shot he takes is going in. And he's disappointed when they don't."
LaVell Boyd scored 25 points and made 7 of 10 3-pointers for UMKC. The Kangaroos made 12 of 24 3-pointers, but still shot just 32 percent from the field.
A hot start had the Kangaroos up by nine midway through the first half, but the Gophers found their shooting touch in the final 20 minutes to cruise to the win.
"They look for their runs like we do," UMKC coach Kareem Richardson said. "I knew it was going to happen. I just hoped that it didn't come in that big of a margin that it did."
Nate Mason had 11 points and seven assists as the Gophers start what many expect to be a rebuilding season. Pitino led them to an NIT championship in his first year on the job, but they missed postseason play altogether last year and enter the year with only two seniors -- King and Morris.
Earlier in the week Pitino reeled in a heralded recruiting class that includes Minnesota prep star Amir Coffey, but the current group isn't interested in waiting around for them to arrive next fall.
The Gophers missed 13 of their first 14 shots, including their first 10 3s, and scored just four points in the first 8:30 of the game.
The Kangaroos weren't shooting much better from inside the arc. But they cashed in from deep going 8 of 15 on 3-pointers in the first half. At one point in the first 20 minutes, they had hit 5 of 8 3s, but just 1 of 10 2-point field goals.
Mason and Morris keyed a 16-4 run that pushed the Gophers ahead and Minnesota opened the second half with 3-pointers on five of its first six baskets to take a 49-39 lead.
"I really want to have no let-downs," King said. "Whether it's defensively, offensively, taking a jump shot, I'm thinking this could change the game. Every shot is so crucial. They were dropping tonight and I'm pretty happy about it."
The Kangaroos returned six players with starting experience, including Harrison, the WAC player of the year. They endured a little bit of drama before the season started when assistant coach Andre McGee resigned after being accused of paying for prostitutes to sleep with recruits and players while McGee worked at Louisville.
Pitino worked with McGee under his father Rick Pitino at Louisville but has denied knowing about any of the alleged activities.
Minnesota: The men's team headlined a Williams Arena doubleheader. The women's team set a new school record with 16 3s in a 98-54 win over Wofford in the opener. ... Freshman Kevin Dorsey had seven points, six assists and seven turnovers in his debut.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I would prefer to win by 40 every night, but I think it was nice for those young guys to feel a little tension in the building." -- Pitino.
Minnesota hosts Louisiana-Monroe on Sunday.