Williams Arena was as silent as it’s been all season when center Daniel Oturu was on his back grabbing his left arm and writhing in pain after a taking a blow midway through the second half against Michigan on Sunday.
Oturu was surrounded by his Gophers teammates, coach Richard Pitino and medical staff. They helped him up, and he walked slowly off the court holding his shoulder steady.
As sensational as the 6-10 sophomore had been in the game, the Gophers’ hopes of having a successful season rest on his being healthy. The game’s outcome suddenly seemed secondary, but not to Oturu.
Not only did he return to the game to a standing ovation, but he scored a career-best 30 points in leading the Gophers to a 75-67 victory over the No. 19 Wolverines in front of an announced 10,463 at the Barn.
“It was important for me, regardless of what injury or how I was feeling I was going to go back out there,” said Oturu, who still played 34 minutes despite the injury departure. “I needed to help my team win this game — and that was the most important thing.”
Oturu had 20 points in the first half, but his team trailed by one at halftime even after coming back from an 11-point deficit. The Gophers (9-7, 3-3 Big Ten) clearly needed to support Oturu even before his injury if they were going to beat Michigan for the first time since 2017.
Sophomore guard Marcus Carr became a legitimate second option, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the second half, to go along with 12 assists and zero turnovers.
“Obviously Dan’s a huge piece,” Carr said. “We kind of just talked about all of us really [having] a collective effort to bring to the table what he brings to the table. So, we all had to do that together.”
The Gophers, who improved to 7-1 at home, took a 45-41 lead after Carr drew defenders on a strong drive and lobbed the ball up for Oturu’s slam with 15:40 to play in the second half.
About two minutes later, the Gophers faithful held their collective breath after Oturu crumbled in pain after being hit by Michigan’s Brandon Johns Jr. battling for an offensive rebound with 14:35 to play.
“I got the rebound, and I tried to go back up, but I felt like I just got thrown to the ground really hard on my shoulder,” Oturu said. “I felt like it slipped in and out. I was in a lot of pain. When I went down into the tunnel, I had to try to do some strengthening exercises to get my strength back into my shoulder.”
Oturu had shoulder surgery during the spring of 2018, before his freshman season. The Cretin-Derham Hall product also missed the Iowa game last year to rest his shoulder.
After Oturu’s departure, the Gophers continued to compete. They got a boost not only from Carr but also 6-9 senior Alihan Demir, who scored all 13 of his points in the second half.
The Wolverines (11-5, 2-3) tied the score 57-57 on Franz Wagner’s three-pointer with 7:34 remaining, but Demir answered with two free throws and a post finish off the glass to reclaim the lead.
Wagner’s fourth three-pointer made it a one-point game, but Oturu was back and scored his first points after the injury with a free throw. Michigan continued to battle by going up 65-64 on a three from Eli Brooks, but Oturu’s final basket, a layup with 3 minutes left, put the Gophers ahead to stay. That shot began an 11-0 run that included Payton Willis’ three-pointer with 63 seconds left, putting the Gophers ahead by eight.
Pitino said he was proud of his team’s effort to keep the pressure on the Wolverines with and without the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder in Oturu.
The Gophers, who play host to No. 20 Penn State on Wednesday, shot 65% from the floor after halftime, when they also held Michigan to 4-for-14 shooting on three-pointers.
“I thought towards the end when we needed a stop, we communicated well,” Pitino said. “I thought that was great, great toughness from all of our guys.”