At least it was entertaining. On a night featuring Spencer Tollackson dunking in traffic and hitting a three pointer, Jonathan Williams bailing out the Gophers and air-balling a free throw, Lawrence McKenzie scoring a career high 26 points, and even some relatively productive minutes from Kevin Payton, Minnesota beat the much improved Michigan Wolverines.
I know I am a bit prone to hyperbole, using the words best, worst, most, and least to describe bagels, grocery stores, and basketball talent more than I probably should. However, last night’s game was one of the most entertaining basketball games I have ever watched. This wasn’t due to the high level of talent or well executed plays. It certainly wasn’t the same kind of entertaining that will be on display in Memphis tomorrow night either, but if any one ever wanted to watch Division I basketball players play like they were on a 7th grade team, Williams Arena was the place to be last night.
If Lawrence McKenzie hadn’t played the game of his life (more hyperbole, sorry) it would have been much more frustrating. He hit the first three pointers he attempted, and to paraphrase the Gopher guard; when you hit the first shot you are feeling good, when you hit the second shot you are feeling better, and when you hit the third shot, you are ready to take the fourth shot from anywhere. McKenzie’s game opening streak ended at three, but with another three pointer and a lay-up by Lawrence Westbrook, Minnesota jumped to a 14-5 run five minutes into the game.
Jumping out to a big lead was fortunate, because despite playing solid defense, Minnesota was unable to keep Michigan off the offensive glass. Despite holding Michigan to less than 38% shooting, the Wolverines led at the half 35-34 after collecting 11 offensive rebounds (Minnesota had 9 defensive rebounds in the first half). Coupled with 7 Minnesota turnovers, Michigan had 7 more first half shot attempts than the Gophers.
For much of the second half, Minnesota’s rebounding woes continues. The Gophers were unable to position themselves for rebounds regardless of whether they long and the result of Michigan’s dreadful 5-26 three point shooting or off of Michigan’s almost as dreadful inside shooting. Even when they would have been in position, Minnesota was rarely able to get their hands up and jump in time to even get a hand on the ball.
Just when Michigan’s rebounding advantage had gotten out of hand, Spencer Tollackson twisted his ankle, or it may have been a repetitive stress injury resulting from what would have earned him excessive celebration penalties in football, the sport he probably should have played. The first celebration came after a pass, which was nice, but not worth fist pumping. The second celebration came after an authoritative dunk, nice again, but it didn’t win the national championship. The third came on an ugly three pointer that somehow went in. Somehow, because the sheet force of 12,000 people screaming no should have produced enough breeze to alter the trajectory of the shot.
With Tollackson limping to the side line, the Gophers had to rely on Jonathan Williams, the much maligned 5th year junior who arguably hasn’t played a productive minutes this year. Last night, he played 16 productive minutes, pulled in 8 rebounds (7 in the second half, compared to Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson’s 7 in a combined 47 minutes) scored 7, and added two blocked shots. Once Michigan was finally forced to pay for their poor shooting, after two more McKenzie three pointers around the 6 minute mark in the second half, Minnesota was able to push out to 7 point lead after trailing by three a few minutes earlier. From there it was garbage time, and after several made free throws, Minnesota had itself a sloppy but highly entertaining win.
Who did what?
- The box-score tells me that Dan Coleman played 25 minutes, but he might as well have not played at all. He scored 4 points, had 1 rebound, all in the first half,and impacted the game even less that the statistics indicate.
- Spencer Tollackson scored 12 points on 6 rebounds, but should have had at least 6 more boards. Hopefully he won’t use his lucky three pointer as a reason to keep shooting.
- Al Nolen’s statistics are mostly unimpressive, 2 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals, but by running the offense, he enable McKenzie to focus on offense, which ultimately won the game for the Gophers.
- Lawrence McKenzie: 26 points, 9-14 shooting (7-11 three pointers), solid defense. There isn’t much else to say.
- Lawrence Westbrook had another solid game with 8 points and 6 rebounds. Maybe one day Minnesota’s second best rebounder won’t be a guy that is barely 5’11”.
- Kevin Payton played 7 minutes, but didn’t do much to hurt the team. His role, other than #1 cheerleader, is to not hurt the team when he is on the court, and last night he filled that role very nicely.
- Jonathan Williams had by far his best game of the season. Sure he air balled a free throw, but he made 3-5 from the line.
- Blake Hoffarber scored only 5 points, but they iced the win.
- Jamal Abu-Shamla made a lay-up.
- Damian Johnson did nothing special. He had 3 points and 4 turnovers.
- The Gopher dance team…black short-shorts, Chuck Taylor All-Stars, knee high black socks, plaid patterned sequins, and at least one side pony tail. NEVER AGAIN.
Highlights from the Big Ten Network: