In their second to last non-conference game of this season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers overpowered the Florida Atlantic Owls. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Gophers imposed their will in every aspect of the game. By game's end, the score illustrated Minnesota's dominance with the Gopher's winning 95-60.
While this win was certainly a welcome one for the team, it was somewhat bittersweet. Nate Mason went down in the second half and missed the rest of the game due to a lower leg injury. The severity of the injury has been diagnosed as simply a "day-to-day" like ailment, but with a lack of depth as it is, missing Mason for any amount of time will hurt.
Anyway, let's look at some positives from the game before we unpack the Mason injury.
What We Learned
1. Minnesota looked rejuvenated offensively
Since losing to Nebraska a few weeks back, the Gopher offense has been utterly stagnant until today. They finished the game shooting a tremendous 54 percent, including over 60 percent shooting in the first half. Not only that, 11 made three-pointers pushed the Minnesota lead from a little to a lot in a short span.
Sure, Florida Atlantic is not the best opponent Minnesota has seen this season. However, a reawakening offensively has to be exciting as they head into their final non-conference game. Especially if injuries continue to plague their roster.
2. Michael Hurt deserves some attention
With the injury to Dupree McBrayer, causing him to miss the last two games, Hurt has been thrust into the starting line-up. In today's game, Hurt scored eight points on an efficient three of four shooting. Tack that stat line onto his performance against Oral Roberts where he scored 10 points on three of seven shooting.
The numbers are not gaudy by any stretch, but Richard Pitino is not asking him to be a box score filler. Until McBrayer is able to come back, Hurt will fill in quite amicably. The Gophers are off now until Saturday, so we may not see Hurt again as a starter, barring a setback to McBrayer's leg injury.
3. The Gophers were outstanding, BUT...
This win has to come with a bittersweet flavor to it. On the one hand, the Gophers are back on track it seems. However, they seemed to have lost Nate Mason for an extended period of time. Mason missed most of the second half after a collision with a Florida Atlantic player. The worst part about this was that Mason was playing the best basketball in his young season today. He left the game with 17 points including five made shots from beyond the arc.
His injury coupled with the McBrayer injury spells trouble for Minnesota as Big Ten play looms. Granted, McBrayer could very well be back for their Saturday game against Harvard. Yet, it seems Mason could miss an extended period time as the injury looked rather serious. The preliminary rumor swirling around the internet is that Mason did something to his Achilles tendon.
That has since been debunked. Richard Pitino had said an MRI was planned and those results came back with only an ankle injury. Mason is day-to-day for now.
What I do know is that Minnesota is in serious trouble if Mason's injury recovery extends deep into conference play. Regardless of severity, ankle injuries are the trickiest in all of basketball. They were already wavering with Mason, and this could spell disaster.
Not much more to say other than that this was a fine win over a sub-par opponent for Minnesota. However, their locker room can not be overly cheery given the injury to their senior leader in Nate Mason. Only one non-conference game stands between Minnesota and Big Ten play. As of right now, they will want the Saturday game against Harvard to last as long as possible simply to avoid the impending conference grind. If Mason's injury lingers, Big Ten play may turn into a struggle for the Gophers.