Amir Coffey leads Big Ten in scoring — and Gophers to conference wins
MINNEAPOLIS -- Big Ten Network produced an online highlight package from the Minnesota men’s basketball team’s 59-52 victory over Wisconsin on Thursday, Jan. 3. While the game included a big Badgers comeback and some clutch plays from Gopher teammates, it starred only Amir Coffey.
For 45 seconds, footage from Kohl Center in Madison exclusively featured Minnesota’s point guard, with an array of pull-up runners in the paint, three-pointers, spin moves and finishes in the lane, as well as fast-break layups and floaters over shot blockers.
When the Gophers have been at their best this season, Coffey has been the catalyst. He scored a career-high 32 points in Minnesota’s 85-78 win over then-No. 24 Nebraska on Dec.5. He followed it up with a game-high 21 points in last week’s victory over the then-No. 22 Badgers.
The junior from Hopkins leads the Big Ten in scoring at 24 points per game in conference play, going into Minnesota (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten) versus Maryland (12-3, 3-1) game at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Williams Arena.
Coffey has moved from the wing to a point guard-centric role this season, with head coach Richard Pitino emphasizing the need for him to continue to score.
“You are a good passer and you move the ball well and you know how to play, but we need you to be that option scoring the basketball,” Pitino relayed Monday of Coffey.
Coffey said his aggressiveness against the Badgers was, in part, a byproduct of what their defense was presenting him.
“They had a couple of weak spots,” Coffey said. “They weren’t guarding ball screens real good, so it was just finding my spots, and I got it going. Got hot a little bit.”
Coffey scored 15 consecutive points for the Gophers in the first half as they took a 29-14 halftime lead. Minnesota expected the Badgers to make a second-half comeback at home, and once they did, Coffey helped snuff it out.
With Minnesota’s lead down to 49-47 with 1:44 remaining, Michael Hurt set a screen for Coffey, who thought Hurt was going to roll to the basket and potentially receive a pass. But Coffey was surprised when Hurt went wide to the three-point line instead.
Coffey drove into the lane and dropped in a shot over Badgers big man Nate Reuvers of Lakeville North. “That was definitely not planned,” Coffey said.
At 6-foot-8, Coffey has aspirations to play in the NBA, something that likely won’t be possible unless he shows himself to be a force in the Big Ten. “You’ve got to separate yourself as one of those,” Pitino said.
There was no pregame telltale sign that Coffey was about to light up the scoreboard against the Cornhuskers or Badgers, and Pitino believes that perceived connection can be overrated, especially with Coffey.
“Amir is kind of steady with his mentality all the time,” Pitino said. “He’s not like this fiery guy one day and calm the next. He’s pretty even keel all the time.”
The Gophers needed Coffey’s scoring production at Wisconsin, especially with top scorer Jordan Murphy held to five points.
“Just knowing that he can score and that we can still win a ball game without me doing very well,” Murphy said. “That was the most important thing that I took away from it.”