by Tommy Sletten, Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Deep into the second half, a menacing left-handed dunk all over an Oral Roberts defender put the Gophers up 62-44, bringing the Williams Arena crowd to their feet with excitement.
But, the jam didn’t come from Amir Coffey or one of the more frequent Gopher dunkers: it came from Michael Hurt.
“It felt really good,” Hurt said with a smile of his dunk. “Isaiah made a great pass so I could just go up with it.”
Hurt made his first career start against the Golden Eagles Thursday, helping lead the Gophers to a 77-63 win with a career-high 10 points and three rebounds. Hurt also played 26 minutes with only one turnover, and was a key part of the flow and movement of the Minnesota offense.
“I thought for Mike, it was really productive minutes for him,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “He’s a terrific cutter, he’s playing smart basketball, and he’s minimizing mistakes.”
Hurt started in place of the injured Dupree McBrayer, and picked up right where McBrayer's strong play left off.
The Rochester, Minn. native started at the small forward position, sliding Amir Coffey to shooting guard, and was called to cover the perimeter on defense.
Playing at the three was a break-away from last season, where Hurt was mostly slotted at the four, or power forward position. This season, Hurt has primarily played the three, coming off the bench to relieve Amir Coffey.
“I played a little bit more four last season, because I wasn’t as laterally quick, so I sometimes couldn’t guard three’s as much as I could guard fours. This year I feel like I’m a lot more confident defending,” Hurt said.
With Hurt challenged with guarding the perimeter, the team held Oral Roberts to just 3-16 from the arc, something the team has struggled with this season.
“The big thing for us was three-point defense, and I think we did a lot better job than past games,” Hurt said. “It was something that we really emphasized over the break.”
Hurt found out he would start on Tuesday, giving him the last two days of the Gophers’ 10-day break to mentally prepare.
“I was just going into practice with the same mentality, the next man up, knowing that if I need to step up I will,” Hurt said.
This season, Hurt has stepped into a more significant role for Minnesota, increasing his minutes from 5.8 per game, to 13.2 per game, and typically being one of the first men off the bench.
The difference for Hurt, he says, was the offseason.
“I think the offseason was great for me, because last season I wasn’t physically ready,” Hurt said. “Now I just feel like I’m a lot more prepared physically, basketball-wise. All of us have really worked hard. Murph has turned into an awesome offensive and defensive player. I think it was huge for us this offseason because we had so many guys coming back.”
Hurt credited the bench with helping to lift the Gophers to a win as well, recognizing Bakary Konate for his spark on defense, and Isaiah Washington for his leadership on offense, as well as Davonte Fitzgerald and Jamir Harris for their contributions.
While Hurt spends his time commending his teammates, his teammates are quick to compliment him, with many noting his work ethic and strong play both in practice and on the court, even if he’s not the first person on fans’ radars.
“Mike does a lot for us, he rebounds, he gets wide-open cuts and layups, and knocks down shots,” sophomore Jordan Murphy said.
With more conference play looming, Hurt looks poised to see more time on the court if he can keep his level of play elevated like it was Thursday.
“I thought he was good, those were really good minutes for him. He took advantage of an opportunity, certainly,” Pitino said.
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