Arkansas State’s Tristin Walley (4) reaches for a loose ball against Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Minneapolis. (Stacy Bengs/Associated Press)

MINNEAPOLIS — Coach Richard Pitino spoke to his Minnesota Gophers about avoiding a letdown following a challenging early-season schedule with Minnesota hosting Arkansas State on Saturday afternoon.

The Gophers took the message to heart early and then coasted to a decisive victory.

Freshman Daniel Oturu posted season highs with 19 points and 12 rebounds, and Dupree McBrayer chipped in 14 points for Minnesota in a 72-56 win against the Red Wolves on Saturday.

“Our guys need to understand how to play in those type of games because your opponent’s got nothing to lose,” Pitino said. “And I thought that we were just dragging a little bit. I do think that our defense was pretty good, held them to 31 percent. But we certainly were not great by any means.”

Oturu had his first double-double and added three blocks for the Gophers (8-2). Amir Coffey finished with 12 points as Minnesota cruised to the win after starting the game with a 21-2 run. The Gophers led by as much as 21 but Arkansas State kept the game within reach and outscored Minnesota 32-31 in the second half.

Ty Cockfield scored 20 points for the Red Wolves (3-6), who has lost five of their past seven games. Tristin Walley added 14 points.

“I liked our effort,” Arkansas State coach Mike Balado said. “I thought our defense took a step tonight. Our offense, unfortunately, didn’t. We shot an awful percentage, but it’s tough when you have two 6-10 guys down there and trying to finish that length.”

Oturu, the 6-foot-10 center, had struggled at times early in his first season while adapting to size and physicality inside as the Gophers’ scheduled featured seven games against major conference programs.

He took advantage of his size against an Arkansas State team, which has 6-9 J.J. Matthews as the tallest starter. Oturu had his first double-digit rebounding effort and was one off his high of four blocks. He was also 9 of 12 from the free-throw line.

“When you play these mid-major teams that are not going to have the size that you have, so you’ve got to be able to physically beat them up down low and inside, and I thought Dan definitely did that,” Pitino said.

Pitino said Oturu sprained his ankle in the second half and will be re-evaluated on Sunday.

BIG PICTURE

Arkansas State: The first big test of the season for the Red Wolves was a disappointment. Minnesota’s opening burst buried Arkansas State and it never recovered. The Red Wolves did play competitively the rest of the way, perhaps a good sign when they get into Sun Belt Conference play.

Minnesota: After a series of games against Power Five conferences, Minnesota’s scheduled lightened a bit starting with the Red Wolves. The Gophers accomplished what it should have: a confidence-building win with no injuries. They hope for the same the rest of December before going to Wisconsin on Jan. 3.

MCBRAYER TO TAKE TIME AWAY

McBrayer’s mother died last week and Pitino said he will leave Monday to return home to New York. His mother’s funeral will be Wednesday and he will miss Tuesday’s game.

QUICK START

McBrayer, Coffey and freshman Gabe Kalscheur propelled the Gophers early. Kalscheur had six of his nine points, while McBrayer and Coffey each had five points in the opening run.

Minnesota also had 11 offensive rebounds on just 17 missed shots in the first half, with four offensive rebounds in the second half.

“I think our mentality was one thing that he had a problem with and I think that’s something we have to address in practice,” Gophers forward Jordan Murphy said. “Our guys, myself, we have to learn through these games that teams have nothing to lose and they’re going to be tough and give us all they can.”

UP NEXT

Arkansas State returns home against Florida Atlantic on Dec. 14.

Minnesota hosts North Florida on Tuesday.

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