VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The experience of Minnesota outlasted the inexperience of Texas A&M in the closing minutes even if baskets were not coming easy. Or at all.
“We found a way to make winning plays. Sometimes when you have a night like that where you’re not flowing offensively you have to be able to do that. Our guys did that,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
Jordan Murphy scored 14 points, Amir Coffey added 12 points, and Minnesota hit 10 of 14 free throws in the closing minutes to hold off Texas A&M 69-64 on Sunday night in the Vancouver Shootout.
The Golden Gophers (3-0) watched a 14-point first-half lead disappear, but made enough free-throw attempts late to get the victory despite going the final four minutes without a basket. Texas A&M led 64-63, but had four straight empty possessions, missing a pair of long 3-pointers late in the shot clock and committing a pair of turnovers.
The Gophers capitalized on the mistakes at the free-throw line, making six attempts in the final two minutes to hold off the Aggies. Dupree McBrayer added 10 points for the Gophers.
“We were pretty poised down the stretch. I think the older guys definitely took the wheel a little bit,” Murphy said.
Brandon Mahan scored a career-high 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and helped ignite Texas A&M’s rally, but the Aggies (1-3) lost their third straight and faltered in the closing minutes. Mahan had 14 total points on the season through three games.
Christian Mekowulu added 16 points and TJ Starks had 11 for the Aggies. It was a far better showing for the Aggies than their last game against Gonzaga when they were blown out.
“We thought we had good momentum going down the stretch but we struggled scoring the last three, four minutes,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “We didn’t get good shots or run good offense and you have to give Minnesota credit. I thought they showed a little more poise down the stretch than we did.”
Minnesota led by as many as 14 in the first half, only to let Texas A&M slowly chip away. The Aggies pulled within 41-36 early in the second half on Mahan’s corner 3-pointer, but Minnesota built the lead back to 11 after Murphy’s first basket of the second half for a 51-40 lead with 11 minutes left.
That’s when the Aggies got hot, running off 12 of the next 16 points and closing within 55-52 on Isiah Jasey’s dunk. Matz Stockman scored for Minnesota on a rebound putback, but the Aggies scored six straight capped by Mahan’s dunk to pull even at 57-all with 5:50 left. Mahan followed with his second 3-pointer and Texas A&M had its first lead since the opening minute of the game.
Daniel Oturu’s rebound basket with 4:09 left ended Minnesota’s three-minute scoring drought and was the final field goal for the Gophers. Murphy, Coffey and McBrayer all took turns hitting free throws to seal it while Texas A&M struggled to get good looks.
“I thought our zone bothered them, slowed them down a little bit. We found a way to get stops,” Pitino said.
Minnesota committed 20 turnovers — 16 in the first half — as it struggled for stretches dealing with how physical Texas A&M played defense.
“They’re physical and we hadn’t seen a defense like that yet,” Pitino said.
Minnesota: The Gophers are now 20-15 against SEC opponents and picked up a second straight non-conference Power Five win after beating Utah.
Texas A&M: The Aggies will be frustrated by their start against Minnesota, but the rebound in keeping the game close into the second half was a far better showing than their last game against No. 3 Gonzaga. The Aggies trailed Gonzaga by 10 at halftime, but gave up 51 second-half points and trailed by as many as 34. … The Aggies will appreciate the day of rest before facing Washington. Leading-scorer Savion Flagg returned home after the Gonzaga game to attend a funeral before rejoining the team in Vancouver. He had nine points in 35 minutes.