The Gophers’ game against Loyola Marymount was billed to have a big-man battle near the top of the marquee.
It was Minnesota 7-footer Liam Robbins against LMU’s 7-foot-3 Mattias Markusson, but foul trouble kept the twin tower tussle from playing a more prominent role Saturday.
Instead, Marcus Carr remained the main man. After 35 points in the season-opener Wednesday, the Gophers’ junior point guard had 28 points and eight assists in a 88-73 win at Williams Arena.
Minnesota (2-0), a 14-point favorite, trailed by nine points midway through the first half due to cold shooting. But Carr’s 22 first-half points carried them back to take a 41-37 lead at the half.
“Marcus is unbelievable, one of the best point guard I’ve ever played with and ever come across,” said U forward Brandon Johnson, a Western Michigan transfer. “Once he gets that look in his eye, he knows, like, ‘can’t nobody stop me, I’m about to get a bucket.’ We are going to get a stop, and I’m gonna do the same thing coming back down.”
During that comeback, Carr scored 15 of 19 points. He had three-pointers, three-point plays and fadeaway jumpers. At will finding different ways. At one point, Carr was 7 for 10 from the field, while the rest of his team was 3 for 13.
“There was a lull there in the first half, where Marcus took over,” Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said. “We needed that, because we weren’t getting a lot of good stuff.”
Meanwhile, Robbins had two ill-advised fouls early in the first half and had to sit for all but six minutes. The Drake transfer was expected to play a bigger role against a player who was pursued to be a Gopher.
Pitino said Friday he looked into potentially adding Markusson as a graduate transfer before this season, comparing him to former Purdue big man Isaac Haas. But the Swedish center ended up staying at LMU.
Markusson had a team-high 19 points and five rebounds as LMU needed a buzzer-beater to top Southern Utah, 85-83, for new coach Stan Johnson’s first win on Wednesday. On Saturday, Markusson finished with only six points and four rebounds in 25 minutes, while Robbins had 10 points and eight rebounds in only 19 minutes.
The Gophers’ defense was disruptive, forcing 19 turnovers, with Pitino crediting Both Gach with setting the tone. It led to a 15-8 margin in fast-break points.
“He started to disrupt them, got a couple illegal screens, three steals,” Pitino said. “He was phenomenal (Saturday). He is a stat-sheet stuffer, and I think when you have him, Gabe (Kalscheur), Marcus going down hill and getting to the lane, good things can happen.”
While Carr had the most obvious answer to the slow start, Gach also saw moments to act.
“I was just trying to get in the passing lanes, whatever they are getting off those handoffs, I was just trying to blow it up as much as I can,” said Gach, who finished with 17 points, six rebounds and six assists. “I was just creating some energy for our team because we needed it. We started the game a little sluggish, and I was one trying to pick us up a little bit.”
The Gophers had all 14 players available for Game 2 after sophomore guard Tre’ Williams (shoulder) and freshman guard David Mutaf (undisclosed) missed Wednesday’s season-opening 99-69 win over Green Bay. While Mutaf didn’t play, Williams had four points and three rebounds across 14 minutes in his season debut.