"My coach was just preaching about how they couldn't cover both me and Reggie (Lynch) at the same time," Golden Gophers junior forward Jordan Murphy said. "My teammates did a good job finding me when I was open."
Which was all night long.
Murphy erupted for a career-high 35 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as Minnesota started its most anticipated basketball season in about 20 years with a 92-77 non-conference win at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Operating against a Spartans team with no starters taller or heftier than 6-foot-7, 202-pound forward Ramel Thompkins, Murphy and Lynch did anything they wanted. Lynch, who was the team's only starter that didn't score in double figures last season, collected 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Or to put it another way, Murphy and Lynch combined for 26 boards, nine fewer than USC Upstate managed as a team. The Golden Gophers finished with a 54-35 advantage in rebounding, grabbing 20 offensive boards.
But Minnesota had to work most of the game to put away the Spartans, playing their first game under new coach Kyle Perry, who got the job on Oct. 3 after long-time head coach Eddie Payne resigned due to pain from his second ankle replacement in two years.
What USC Upstate lacked in height, it made up for in 3-point shooting. It came out firing, sinking four in the first 5 minutes and 40 seconds to establish a 14-10 lead, and matched the Golden Gophers point for point until a 12-2 run gave Minnesota a 43-33 halftime advantage.
Even when the Golden Gophers seemed to be on the verge of blowing it open in the second half when they pushed the lead to 57-38 on two free throws by Amir Coffey with 14:14 remaining, the Spartans kept working the game.
Thompkins drilled a 3-pointer with 7:33 left to cut the deficit to 70-61, but Minnesota finally put away the pesky visitors from the Atlantic Sun Conference with an 11-3 spurt. Murphy's dunk with 5:03 left capped the run.
"They played a good five-guard system and shot the ball well," Murphy said of USC Upstate. "I think we'll have to go look at the film and learn from the mistakes."
The Spartans sank 14 of 31 3-pointers, including 5 of 6 from Jure Span, who finished with 19 points. Malik Moore paced USC Upstate with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists in a solid all-around performance.
Mike Cunningham added 13 points despite making only 5 of 17 shots from the floor, while Thompkins contributed an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Point guard Nate Mason, the top scorer on last season's 24-10 team that improved by 16 wins over the season before, converted only 3 of 10 shots from the field for the Golden Gophers. But Mason still collected 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.
To Murphy, the season opener displays why Minnesota will be a dangerous out on a nightly basis.
"Nate's one of the best point guards in the country," he said. "We have so many weapons that it will be hard for people to guard us. Anyone can get hot at any minute."
NOTES: Minnesota's preseason ranking is its first to start a season since 2009-10, when it was 25th. It's the Golden Gophers' highest ranking to begin a season since 1993-94, when it was rated 10th. ... USC Upstate G Mike Cunningham, the team's leading returning scorer and assist man from last season, was a unanimous choice to the preseason All-Atlantic Sun Conference team. ... Minnesota beefed up its program for next season by signing F Jarvis Omersa and C Daniel Oturu on Wednesday during the early signing period. Some observers rate it a top 25 class nationally.