|Murphy leads No. 14 Minnesota into matchup vs. Alabama A&M|
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Big Ten announced its 10-player preseason all-conference team, senior point guard Nate Mason and sophomore swingman Amir Coffey represented No. 14 Minnesota.
With Mason returning after leading Minnesota in scoring (15.2 points) last season and Coffey coming off a strong freshman campaign (12.2 points), it was little surprise both were placed on the preseason team
Heading into Tuesday's game against Alabama A&M, forward Jordan Murphy might have a line on the conference's player of the year award based on his early performances.
Last season, Murphy averaged 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds and in Minnesota's three wins last week, the junior averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 1.7 assists. He has notched a double-double in all four games and his numbers earned him Big Ten Player of the Week for the second straight week.
Murphy had a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds as the Gophers (4-0) beat Western Carolina on Sunday and he'll look to keep his double-double streak going against Alabama A&M.
"I didn't rebound very good in the first half, and that's why I struggled a little bit," Murphy said after Sunday's 92-64 win. "But I think as the second half went on I started to relax a little bit more. I got a few foul calls, got a little bit more comfortable."
Alabama A&M will face its second straight Top 25 team after losing 104-67 at No. 25 Alabama on Friday. Freshman guard Amari Goulbourne led the Bulldogs with a season-high 17 points against the Crimson Tide, who shot 63.5 percent and outrebounded the Bulldogs 47-24.
Four players scored in double figures for Alabama A&M with DeEderick Petty adding 12 and Arthur Johnson and Jalen Reeder each scoring 10 points.
Facing Murphy and Minnesota will be another tall task -- literally.
While Murphy is only 6-foot-6 as a power forward, his tenacity allows him to succeed in the paint. Center Reggie Lynch is 6-10 and leads the nation in blocks per game at 5.5.
The Bulldogs have one starter, Mohamed Sherif, listed over 6-7.
If there's a spot where the Gophers could be vulnerable, it's from beyond the 3-point line.
Niagara hit 6 of its first 9 shots from 3 against Minnesota two games ago and Western Carolina stayed close with 7 of 10 3-pointers in the first half before finishing 11 of 22 overall.
"I thought our defense was bad the first half," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. "I don't think those were tough shots. In the past for a couple games, they just might have been tough shots. At some point, you're going to have to get burned."
Alabama A&M has hit 15 3-pointers and shot .500 from beyond the arc in its past two games. Johnson has four of the 3s.
"Our 3-point defense has to improve like you said," Murphy told reporters after Sunday's game. "I mean we did a good job, just taking that punch and throwing a couple of our own. We did a good job of bouncing back, I think Dupree (McBrayer) and Amir were keeping us together in the first half."
Coffey had 15 points in the game. McBrayer scored a season-high 14 points and added four assists with no turnovers.
"We do a lot of drills in practice, we just got to take the drills more serious, in my opinion," McBrayer said of defending the 3-point shot. "We are just kind going through the motions, so now that teams hit 14, 11, and 11 threes on us, I think we are going to realize that in practice tomorrow."
Minnesota has cruised in the early part of the season with five returning starters. Alabama A&M represents the last home game of the stretch before the Gophers travel to New York to play in the Barclays Center Classic where they will face Massachusetts and Alabama.