- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - After losing three straight games, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino focused on his players’ attitudes to change his team’s fortunes. It paid off Wednesday night

Jordan Murphy scored 12 points and grabbed 18 rebounds and Minnesota beat Chicago State 70-52.

Carlos Morris and Charles Buggs each scored 14 points for the Gophers (6-5), who avoided their first four-game nonconference losing streak in nine years.

“I just wanted our guys to not feel sorry for themselves, to understand that this is all a process when you’ve got a young team,” Pitino said. “I think the guys responded to that.”

Over an eight-day stretch the Gophers lost consecutive home games to South Dakota and South Dakota State, then were nipped by Oklahoma State in a neutral-site game. Pitino was curious how his players would respond.

“You can’t hide when you lose, so I wanted to see how the energy would be,” he said. “I thought it was pretty good.”

Chicago State (3-9) got 12 points from sophomore guard Clemmye Owens, a transfer from Bethune-Cookman who was making his debut for the Cougars after sitting out the fall semester. The Cougars were held to just 32.8 percent from the floor as they lost their eighth straight.

“We saw what (Minnesota) was going through, those three losses,” Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy said. “We just said, aw man, this is the wrong time to be going in there. They took care of business.”

The Cougars led by as many as seven points in the first half as Minnesota struggled to get its offense going. Then Murphy hit four free throws and had a tip-in and a putback dunk to put the Gophers on top 24-22. Buggs then made two 3-pointers as Minnesota closed out a 17-2 run over the final 7:44 of the first half, taking a 32-24 lead at the break.

Chicago State pulled back to within two points early in the second half, but Minnesota went on another extended run to pull away. The Gophers outscored the Cougars 25-5 over an 11-minute span to ice their first victory since they beat Clemson on Nov. 30.

After holding Oklahoma State to 62 points on Saturday, the Gophers’ gave another strong defensive effort. But senior Joey King said it’ll take more than that to establish a pattern.

“I’m never going to judge it just on two games because it can change at any time,” King said. “What it comes down to is we just have to keep practicing hard.’

Murphy, a 6-foot-6 freshman, has emerged as Minnesota’s most important player in the nonconference schedule. He’s posted double-doubles in four of the Gophers’ last five games and set a career high on the boards on Wednesday.

“I think he’s just scratching the surface, to be honest,” Pitino said. “He’s got the wingspan. He’s got really long arms and he goes and snatches it. But he can still get a lot better.”

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TIP-INS

Minnesota: Buggs started eight of the first nine games this season, but his playing time took a big hit the past two games. He played just eight minutes in a loss to South Dakota State and spent the entire game on the bench against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Buggs entered Wednesday’s game early in the first half and led the Gophers with 10 first-half points.

Chicago State: The Cougars were facing their third Big Ten team this season. They lost to Illinois 82-79 on Nov. 23 in the Emerald Coast classic, and in their most recent game they lost at Northwestern 77-35.

INJURY BUG

Minnesota freshman guard Kevin Dorsey suffered a left heel injury midway through the first half and did not return. Dorsey has averaged 20.5 minutes per game off the bench this season. After the game Pitino said the team trainer told him it was a bruise and possible plantar fasciitis. Dorsey will undergo an MRI on Thursday.

BIG OFF THE BENCH

Murphy has yet to start a game at Minnesota, though he played a career-high 31 minutes on Wednesday. For the time being, Pitino said he likes Murphy coming off the bench, and the freshman forward has no complaints.

“I don’t really care about starting,” Murphy said. “I’m not here to make demands and say I’ve got to start. That’s not me. I’m just here to provide energy whenever I need to and do whatever the coach asks of me.”

UP NEXT

Minnesota hosts Milwaukee on Dec. 23.

Chicago State hosts Western Illinois on Saturday.

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