Gophers fans gasped when Daniel Oturu covered his face in disgust after being called for his third foul on a moving screen late in the first half of Monday’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Oturu getting into foul trouble early could have easily swayed the momentum in Clemson’s favor, but it turned into an opportunity for coach Richard Pitino’s team to prove it was more than a one-man show.
Oturu’s teammates more than held their own without him on the floor, especially behind Marcus Carr’s career-high 24 points in the Gophers’ 78-60 victory over Clemson in front of an announced 10,148 at Williams Arena. It was the Gophers’ first victory against a high-major opponent in five attempts this season.
“Everybody who came in contributed,” said Carr, who shot 8-for-16 and had nine assists in 36 minutes. “Guys came in and were able to contribute and give us energy — and we were still able to pick up where we left off when [Oturu] was on the court.”
The Gophers (4-4), who shot 54% from the field, didn’t trail the entire game, even during long stretches without their leading scorer and rebounder. Oturu still finished with 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting and four blocks in 24 minutes.
“We were able to weather the storm when we got into foul trouble,” Oturu said. “It means a lot for our team, because we all know what Marcus can do.”
Carr, a sophomore point guard, could do no wrong on the court Monday. The only blemish on his night was probably when he almost got hurt celebrating a potential three-pointer from former walk-on Brady Rudrud after the bench cleared with a 22-point lead late in the game.
“I jumped straight off the bench and caught a cramp in my calf,” Carr said. “That was kind of funny.”
Carr’s aggressive play from the start came against an opponent he faced before, when he played in the Atlantic Coast Conference as a freshman guard at Pittsburgh in 2017-18.
After sitting out last season as a transfer, the Toronto native has experienced his share of ups and downs in his first month in maroon and gold.
But following a season-low four points in a loss to DePaul on Friday, Carr had a talk with Pitino about playing with better pace coming off pick-and-rolls. His change of speed on drives was tough for Clemson (5-3) to defend off Oturu’s screens.
The Gophers, who led 35-29 at halftime, opened the second half with a 10-1 run, sparked by baskets from Oturu and Carr in the first minute.
Oturu’s time on the floor came in short spurts to keep him from fouling out. The 6-foot-10 former Cretin-Derham Hall standout was even more efficient with limited action. He made his first seven baskets of the game, including a layup off a nifty spin move to make it 51-35.
The Tigers (5-3), who were playing in their first true road game of the season, made one last comeback effort to cut it to 62-50 after a strong drive from Khavon Moore.
Recognizing that his team needed another lift, Carr scored five points in a row, including a three-pointer to extend the Gophers’ lead back to 17.
Gabe Kalscheur also had 15 points for the Gophers, whose losses this season have been at home to DePaul, on the road at Butler and Utah and vs. Oklahoma in Sioux Falls.
Pitino’s team lost all four of those games vs. Power Six foes by single digits. He didn’t have to worry about the game being close Monday. Now the Gophers hope beating Clemson gets them ready to open early Big Ten play next Monday at Iowa.
“We needed a win,” Pitino said. “As much as I feel like after eight games, we’ve been tested more than in my six years being here, we needed something to show for it.”
Gophers men 78, Clemson 60 Monday: at Iowa, 7 p.m. (BTN)