MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota coach Richard Pitino challenged Amir Coffey to step up Wednesday. The junior guard gave him the perfect response.
Coffey scored a career-high 32 points, Jordan Murphy had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Minnesota rallied to beat No. 24 Nebraska 85-78.
Coffey has scored in double figures in every game this year, including a season-high 19 in Minnesota’s loss to Ohio State on Sunday. But Pitino said his pregame interviews with television crews made him realize that Coffey needs to do more.
“I said, ‘You know, I’m sick and tired of going into every game and they talk about (Murphy) for us, and then they talk about all the potential pros on the other team. When are they going to start talking about you?'” Pitino recalled telling Coffey. “‘And that’s on you. We’ll put you in positions, but you’ve got to be aggressive.’ And he did that tonight.”
Isaac Copeland led Nebraska (7-2, 1-1 Big Ten) with 17 points and seven rebounds. Isaiah Roby chipped in 15 points and Glynn Watson added 14 for the Huskers, who were looking to start the season 8-1 for the first time in 15 years.
Nebraska couldn’t come up with an answer for Coffey, who dominated on both ends. He made 8 of 16 shots from the field, 14 of 17 from the line, grabbed six rebounds and dished out a game-high six assists.
He also spent much of the night guarding James Palmer, Nebraska’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game. With Coffey in his face, Palmer went 3 for 14 from the floor and scored 11 points.
“He got where he wanted to. He found people. Made tough shots. Got to the foul line,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “He got us on both sides of the floor. Sometimes, if a guy’s killing it on one end he might take a little vacation on the other, and Amir was really good on both ends of the floor.”
The Huskers led by as many as 13 in the second half, but the Gophers (7-2, 1-1) came back with the support of a raucous home crowd.
After Copeland picked up his fourth foul with 5:44 to go, Coffey converted a three-point play that cut Nebraska’s lead to 69-65. A minute later, Dupree McBrayer hit a 3-pointer to pull Minnesota to within 71-68.
After Watson made two free throws, Murphy and Coffey combined to score the next nine points, with Coffey’s 3-pointer putting Minnesota on top to stay, 77-73.
Coffey surpassed his previous career high of 30 with a driving layup with 53 seconds to go, and Murphy hit 4 of 4 free throws in the final 11 seconds.
Minnesota learned Monday that McBrayer’s mother, Tayra McFarlane, died after a long battle with breast cancer. McBrayer missed one day of practice but played 34 minutes against Nebraska, finishing with five points and four assists.
“It was a great feeling just knowing we could get that for Dupree with what he’s going through, that we can fight for him,” Murphy said. “To do what he’s doing right now is next to impossible. I can’t even imagine what he’s going through.”
During their warmups, the Cornhuskers wore T-shirts with “RIP Tayra” on the front.
For the first time in 35 games, a Nebraska opponent shot better than 50 percent from the field. Minnesota ended the game at 51.8 percent after making 16 of 28 shots (57.1 percent) in the second half.
Nebraska: After beating Illinois by 15 points in their Big Ten opener, the Huskers needed to prove they could go on the road and win in a hostile environment. It looked good for 35 minutes, but they faded on both ends of the court down the stretch.
Minnesota: The Gophers went 0 for 13 on 3-pointers in their Big Ten season opener, a 20-point loss at Ohio State. They weren’t much better Wednesday, hitting 3 of 8, but McBrayer and Coffey each hit huge 3-pointers during Minnesota’s comeback.
Nebraska: Hosts Creighton on Saturday.
Minnesota: Hosts Arkansas State on Saturday.