MINNEAPOLIS -- To say Jordan Murphy had a significant advantage in the post was understatement in the Gophers' season opener Friday against South Carolina Upstate, but that didn't matter in the first half.
The Trojans came out firing with seven 3-pointers in the first 15 minutes to not just hang with their nationally-ranked Big Ten opponent, but take a lead.
Offense wasn't the reason Minnesota coach Richard Pitino's squad broke the school record for the biggest one-year turnaround last season going from eight to 24 wins. Defense was by far the strength of his team.
And that was definitely missing Friday on the perimeter, giving up 14 3-pointers.
Murphy was way too much to handle in the paint, though, finishing with a career-high 35 points and 15 rebounds in No. 15 Minnesota's 92-77 opening victory against South Carolina Upstate at Williams Arena.
Murphy's previous career high was 25 points in a win against Iowa last season. He scored the most points in a game for a Gophers player since Andre Hollins had 41 points against Memphis in the Bahamas in 2012.
Reggie Lynch also had a double-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks for Minnesota.
Nobody expected South Carolina Upstate to pull off an upset. But the Gophers (1-0) never seemed in control until late and made it seem like they were looking ahead to their first true test of the season in Monday's Gavitt Tip Off matchup at Providence.
It wasn't far-fetched to expect the Gophers to hang 100 points in their opening game. After all, the Gophers won their two exhibition games by 48 and 29 points, while scoring a combined 211 points against Concordia-St. Paul and Wisconsin-Green Bay last week.
The Gophers started the game shooting 5 for 15 from the field, but the Trojans (0-1) took a 16-12 lead after Deion Holmes' layup at the 12:15 mark.
Minnesota's top returning scorer Nate Mason, a Naismith Trophy player of the year candidate, didn't score his first points until two free throws with 6:31 left in the first half.
Mason averaged 17 points in Big Ten play last season, including two 30-point performances. But the senior point guard was held to just 11 points Friday, including four points on 1-for-5 shooting in the first half. Pitino's three starting guards combined for just 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting at halftime.
Outside shooting was a struggle against the zone defense. But Murphy's layup on a pass from Michael Hurt gave Minnesota a 12-2 run to take a 43-33 halftime advantage. Murphy and Lynch combined for 24 points and 14 rebounds in the first half.
The Trojans' frontline was 6-foot-7, 200-pound Ramel Thompkins and 6-6, 195-pound Carson Smith. It was almost unfair to ask them to hold their own physically against the Gophers' 6-10, 265-pound Lynch and 6-6, 240-pound Murphy.
To open the second half, Lynch scored on a put-back and Murphy muscled in a basket a minute later for a 15-point lead. The Trojans would cut it to a 70-61 with a 3-pointer from Thompkins with 7:33 remaining in the game.
But Murphy would score 15 points in the final seven minutes to put an exclamation point on Minnesota's first victory of the season.
The San Antonio native was more of a rebounder in his first two seasons, averaging just 11 points a game as a freshman and sophomore. But the Karl Malone Award candidate received a standing ovation Friday as he left the floor with one of the best offensive performances in the Barn's history.
(c)2017 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.