For 24 of the 40 minutes, Minnesota out played the Ohio State Buckeyes. They attacked the zone, found the open man, made easy shots, and forced the Buckeyes to live up to their turnover prone potential. Unfortunately, during the first and last eight minutes of the game, the Gophers caught Monsonitis so badly that 5th graders across the state were screaming at the Gophers to move the ball and attack the basket. Ohio State jumped out to a 19-3 lead, eventually cut to 3, and then went on a 31-15 run to eventually win 76-60.
Minnesota’s slow start was especially disconcerting because they had a week to prepare for Ohio State’s zone defense. Either Tubby didn’t have the team ready, or they forgot everything they learned the previous week. The key to breaking down a zone defense is to move the ball, penetrate, and to keep going until a gap opens up. Instead, the Gophers lackadaisically and nonchalantly tossed the ball around the perimeter allowing Ohio State to swarm to the ball. It was rare for the Gophers to even have a look at the basket with more than 15 seconds on the shot clock. Does this sound familiar?
Last year the Gophers would have wilted, but they were not content with being blown out, at least not right away.
Lawrence Westbrook forgot that he is no longer in high school, and that he is not quite 6 feet tall. He made two long three pointers to bring the Gophers back to within 10, and led the team in rebounds, despite going eye to belly with Kosta Koufas and the oversized Buckeye front line.
The seniors (except Spencer Tollackson, who has earned a benching) even got in the act, as Dan Coleman finally found the gaps in the zone that had been there all night, and Lawrence McKenzie brought back the “look at me” act at an opportune time, hitting three pointers and pull up jumpers in transition.
And then it all fell apart. A parade of anorexic white dudes started dunking, Tubby Smith picked up a well earned technical foul, which only led to a “comedy of turnovers” in coach Smith’s words. A few dunks later and the game was out of hand.
While not as dramatic as Drew Neitzel’s soul crushing three pointers a week ago, Jamar Butler turned into the most dominating performance by a Gopher opponent this year. Whether open, covered by someone his size, or shooting three pointers over Spencer Tollackson, he couldn’t miss, except from the free throw line strangely enough. He finished the game with 29 points and 9 assists, though this doesn’t even begin to describe his impact on the game. His performance reiterated how important a go-to guy can be, and how every tournament team needs someone like him. Until someone steps up for the Gophers, we should be happy they still haven’t lost a game they should have won.
Who did what?
- Dan Coleman played well when the Gophers played well, but disappeared along with everyone else when the game got out of hand. His 4 turnovers certainly didn’t help matters, but if hadn’t stepped up the final score would be much uglier. He finished with 14 points and 6 rebounds (3 offensive).
- Spencer Tollackson is steadily losing minutes to Jonathan Williams and even Damian Johnson. He made a free throw, but that was about all he did right. A senior and supposed leader need to make more than a third of his shots, and should never be out-rebounded by a guy who is 5’10″ on a tall day.
- Lawrence Westbrook has taken full advantage of the opportunity created by Al Nolen’s injury. No one wants to see someone get hurt, but Westbrook’s confidence and intensity that have developed over the last two games could be very beneficial in the long run.
- Lawrence McKenzie turned in a solid game when it mattered, finishing with 10 points, 4 assists, and no turnovers. If only he could get to the free throw line.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala may have set a record for the fewest minutes played by a starter. In his three minute he committed two fouls and turned the ball over. Even senior scrubs get to play until the first TV time out during the final home game of their career.
- Al Nolen struggled in his first game back from a thigh bruise, and couldn’t keep up with Butler. It was good to see him back, and he was certainly better than any of his possible replacements, but he just wasn’t his old self tonight.
- Kevin Payton played one minute less than Abu-Shamala. The bench is shortening.
- What Travis Busch lacks in talent he makes up in fiestyness. The Gophers would benefit from a moderation in both categories.
- Jonathan Williams provided a very serviceable game, scoring 4 points and making both his free throw attempts. Yet, in 13 minutes he didn’t have a single rebound.
- Blake Hoffarber had his shot against the zone, actually several, but only finished 1/7 from behind the three point line. He finished with 8 points in a missed opportunity.
- Damian Johnson was everywhere again, and might as well be considered the starter even when he doesn’t start. He had a highlight reel block on an alley-oop to Kosta Koufos and slashing dunk in garbage time. In between he had 8 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds. What is the process for officially bestowing a nickname on a D-I basketball player, because elastic man could soon be taken.
- Ryan Saunders, that was looking dangerously close to spandex.
Highlights from the Big Ten Network: