The Barn is definitely back. After a hiatus of decade (with occasional brief glimpses of what it once was) Williams Arena returned to form as one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball. The lobby was filled an hour and a half before game time, the student section was full 45 minutes later, and there was a palpable buzz as the rest of the fans filed in. When the game finally started, it was pandemonium. The most roudy crowd in years exploded after defensive stops and smart plays in a way that was formerly reserved for 20 point runs. Every one in attendance knew the importance of the game, including both the Gophers and the Hoosiers, who had not yet beaten any team of consequence.
Eric Gordon struggled mightily as 14,000 desperate to explode fans obviously bothered him, but D.J. White cemented his status as the heart and soul of the Hoosiers. White showed off his explosive leeping ability as he pulled down ten rebounds. He also scored 15 points, 4 on momentum swinging dunks, including an alley-oop that was at my eye level (I sit in the 13th row). On a night marked by two teams playing hot potato with a chance to win, ultimately is was White that took over the game.
Indiana came into the game ranked #9 in the country with their only loss being a bad one to Xavier. Minnesota entered less than a week removed from a 16 point comeback against Penn State and on a quest to prove that their six point loss to Michigan State earlier in the season was not a fluke. Minnesota’s Michigan State loss doesn’t appear to be a fluke, but they were once again unable to close out an elite team.
Most of the attention going into the game was focused on all-everything Hoosier guard Eric Gordon, and how the Gophers could slow him. It turned out that the best defense is a referee with a quick whistle. Less than 9 minutes into the game Eric Gordon had three fouls, and for the majority of the game was ineffective. None of his fouls were particualrly blatant, but they were a product of poor officiating. Lawrence Westbrook isn’t a scoring threat from 35 feet out. Even when Gordon was in the game he appeared flustered by the crowd, the Gophers swarming defense, and perhaps himself because of his inability to score at will. He finished with 12 points and 7 turnovers in what may be the worst game of his college career.
If anything, Eric Gordon’s early foul trouble was a mixed bless. In his absence, Jordon Crawford keyed a 17-0 Hoosier run as he made four first half three pointers to give the Hoosiers a relatively comfortable eight point lead considering the back and forth nature of the first part of the half. When Gordon was in the game, any semblance of organized Hoosier offensive quickly morphed into the Eric Gordon show, with his team mates content to watch Gordon improvise. The Gopher defense feasted off the lack of ball movement or really any movement by the Hoosiers. Indiana turned the ball over 26 times, many of which were bad passes that sailed well into the crowd.
Indiana problems holding on to the ball are the reason the game stayed close. While Minnesota’s defense was brilliant and they clearly wanted the win more, the Gophers could not make baskets when they needed to. The Big Ten’s best three point shooting team most likely will not hold that title again this season after a disastrous 3-17 shooting night from behind the three point line. It wasn’t that the shots were forced or that the Hoosiers were playing exceptional perimeter defense. The Gophers just couldn’t get them to fall. Free throw shooting was just as problematic, as the Gophers made only 11-21, including 0-7 Spencer Tollackson. I would much rather lose a close game than be blown out, but losses are much more frustrating when two more free throws and one more three pointer could change the course of the game.
The Gophers aren’t in the elite of the league, but in their two biggest games of the year, they’ve shown the ability to push elite teams to the edge. The difference in Thursday night’s game was that Dan Coleman finally showed up in a big game. He led the team in playing time and aggressively took the ball to the basket. There was a fire in his eyes that I haven’t seen at any point in his career. Spencer Tollackson also played an good floor game. His rebounding difficulties are almost as well documented as a his free throw problems, but he at least was able to give the Gophers an inside presence on the offensive end. Unfortunately, the third senior, Lawrence McKenzie struggled offensively and missed a wide open three pointer in the final minute. The seniors should be better prepared than anyone else to close out a close game, but they just aren’t there yet.
Minnesota’s five point loss to the Hoosiers could go a long way in determining how the rest of the season will go. The Gophers and their fans clearly had a lot invested in what could have been an opportunity for a breakthrough win that would shove all the unpleasant memories of the Dan Monson era to the distant pass. They came close and obviously played much better than at any point last season, but a loss is a loss, and this one was particularly frustrating. Tubby Smith will have a real challenge to get the team ready for Michigan State, another team to which the Gophers narrowly lost. In past years (or for the football team for that matter) a loss like this could cause a season killing shame spiral. It is Tubby’s job to remind the Gophers just how close they came, and that with a little luck the game could have gone their way. If he succeeds, the Gophers should be in good shape. If he doesn’t the Seniors may feel like they just aren’t meant to win the big one.
Who did what:
- Jamal Abu-Shamala keeps starting, and keeps sitting on the bench for 3/4 of the game.
- Dan Coleman was just about everywhere, and led the Gophers in scoring. Unfortunately he wasn’t the Gopher who went to the line seven times. Dan, take it at your man.
- Spencer Tollackson, bend your knees, shoot it granny style, try to bank it in, do anything that you aren’t doing when you shoot free throws.
- Lawrence Westbrooks offensive numbers were…well…offensive. However, he was one of the key reasons why Eric Gordon struggled mightily.
- Lawrence Mckenzie has usually been able to play the point well or put up quite a few points. Not on Thursday against the Hoosiers. McKenzie also gave every Gopher fan flashbacks to a certain disastrous football game against Wisconsin as dropped a pass out of bounds with less than two minutes left in the game.
- Al Nolen was regularly able to find open Gophers under the basket, including Spencer Tollackson where it would be impossible to miss a lay up. (Spencer, I’m kidding. You might be my favorite Gopher, but you can be so frustrating).
- Kevin Payton played six minutes. At least his playing time is going in the right direction.
- Jonathan Williams is still a year away from being Big Ten ready.
- Blake Hoffarber scored 7 points, including a four point play in the first half. However, the rest of the Big Ten has realized that right now he is little more than a spot shooter (though an excellent one) and a defensive liability. Hoffarber will need to start scoring inside the three point line or anywhere off the dribble.
- Damian Johnson, I know you wanted to be “plastic man” and its already taken. Would “elastic man” work? He had eight points, five steals, three blocks and three assists.
- Travis Busch played two minutes.
- Ryan Saunders, get well soon.
Highlights from the Big Ten Network