Marcus Carr scores 35, Gophers open with 99-69 win over UW-Green Bay

Marcus Carr matched a career-high with 35 points as the Gophers men's basketball team opened the 2020-21 season with a 99-69 win over UW-Green Bay Wednesday night at Williams Arena. ((credit: University of Minnesota))

It was a weird feeling all the way around Wednesday night as the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team opened its 2020-21 season against UW-Green Bay in an empty Williams Arena.

No fans in the stands, sounds that normally aren’t heard during play are loud and clear and a silent arena during timeouts, other than in-arena music. But it’s still basketball, and as long as the Gophers can steer clear of COVID-19, there will be a season.

Marcus Carr tied a career-high with 35 points, five players made their Minnesota debuts and Eric Curry played for the first time in two years as the Gophers pulled away for a 99-69 victory.

“It was weird, there’s no other way to put it. It’s also awesome that we can play the game. To come on top, to win by 30, I was really pleased with the effort, especially with six new players. I thought it was a really, really good 40 minutes,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said.

Carr put the Gophers on his shoulders for most of the 30 minutes he was on the floor Wednesday. He shot 12-of-22 from the field, 4-of-7 from the perimeter and added seven rebounds and four assists. He showed why he entered the year a Preseason All-Big Ten pick.

Carr spent his summer quarantine in his native Toronto, and was ready to go when he got back to Minneapolis this fall.

“He went home and clearly got in the best shape of his life. You could see that he went home and he didn’t sit on the couch, he got himself in terrific shape,” Pitino said. “I’m not real surprised that he played well. He’s been consistently playing at an extremely high level since he’s gotten back. I think he put everybody in this program on notice when he came back from Toronto, everybody looked over and said he’s trying to take the next step. That leadership really has resonated with a lot of our guys.”

Austin native Both Gach and Drake transfer Liam Robbins made their Gophers’ debuts in the win. Gach had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes. Robbins had 10 points, nine rebounds and one block while battling foul trouble.

“It meant a lot to me being back home, being able to play for the Gophers, playing in front of my home state. Exciting for me, knowing I’m from here and played high school basketball games here and now I’m playing college here,” Gach said.

After a cold start shooting, Gabe Kalscheur finished with 17 points in the win. He shot 6-of-17 from the field and missed his first seven from the perimeter. Curry started and scored four points in 15 minutes. Freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. scored five points in 14 minutes.

Pitino has arguably his deepest and most skilled team in his eighth season at Minnesota. The Gophers got out to a 12-0 lead in the opening minutes, led 36-9 at one point and took a 53-22 lead at the half.

They led by as many as 33 before UW-Green Bay went on a run, cutting the lead to 70-60 with eight minutes remaining. Led by Carr, the Gophers rallied with a 29-9 run to close out the game. Pitino and his players talked after the win about how strange it was playing in an empty Williams Arena.

When the Gophers are a consistently good program, it’s one of the top venues in college basketball. But due to COVID-19, there won’t be fans there any time soon.

“It’s definitely something that we’re still getting used to. Definitely miss The Barn and all our fans and all the Gopher faithful getting on their feet for us,” Carr said. “It’s definitely something new, but we’re working on it.”

In a strange twist, the Gophers will now host Loyola-Marymount for consecutive games at Williams Arena. Due to COVID-19 restrictions put in place by Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesota can’t host a multi-team event it had planned.

Playing sports in a pandemic forces things to change on the fly.

“We want to give our guys 27 games if we can. We know that’s going to be hard, but we know that if we can get as many of these non-conference games in as possible, it’s beneficial,” Pitino said. “This is a day by day deal. We were lucky to get a game in, that’s the way I look at it. There’s a lot of hard work from a lot of people to be able to get a game in.”