It only took four years, or in the cases of Dan Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie, 5 years to learn how to win a big game. But when the final horn sounded on Saturday at The Barn, just about everyone was willing to overlook the previous missed opportunities and enjoy Minnesota first semi-surprising win of the year.
In a lot of ways, Senior Day mimicked the careers of Minnesota’s seniors. Ryan Saunders didn’t play, Spencer Tollackson got himself into foul trouble and barely impacted the game, Dan Coleman had decent numbers (13 points, 5 rebounds ) but you would be hard pressed to find anyone that remembers how those came about, and Lawrence McKenzie essentially took the first half off, only to explode for 20 in the second half.
The first half resembled the junior years of the soon to be departing upperclassman. Both teams struggled to find any sort of offensive flow. Minnesota was content to throw long passes out of bounds, to stand as still as possible against Ohio State’s zone, and actually make a few free throws. For their part, the Buckeyes were content to miss plenty of shots, and run away from the ball every time Minnesota missed a shot. Thanks to their offensive rebounding advantage and 8-10 free throw shooting, the Gophers went into half time up one. Yes, the Gophers failed to hold an opponent scoreless in the final 5 seconds of the first half again.
In the second half, Ohio State used their full court press off of every made basket, and it was the best thing to happen to the Gophers all day. Though they didn’t always break it with ease, many times they turned the ball over or barely made it across the mid-court before a 10-second call, Minnesota scored much more easily when the Buckeyes pressed. By pressing, Ohio State gave up the zone that had held the Gophers to 30% shooting and made them look simply silly a few weeks ago in Columbus.
Lawrence McKenzie and Lawrence Westbrook took advantage of what was soon a roomy perimeter. In fact, between the 17:14 and 4:49 mark of the second half, only the Lawrence’s scored. Before the Lawrence streak began Minnesota was up 31-28, and when it ended the Gophers led 58-46.
Ohio State continued their shooting struggles in the second half, even from 3 inches away, which is about how far Kosta Koufos was away from the basket when he was rejected by the front of the rim. Koufos finished with 17 points, but the blown dunk and numerous air balls, despite the 5 or 6 inch height advantage, was certainly not the performance of a future first round draft pick. Jamar Butler, who torched the Gophers in the first meeting between these teams, and has played nearly every minute since, is dead on his feet. He played tired, and made only 4-13 shots and committed 3 turnovers.
The last four years of Minnesota basketball have been tough to swallow. Many players have left the program, and not much needs to be said about last year. But the seniors stuck it out, didn’t do anything off the court to embarass themselves or the team, and at the very least gave next year’s talented class something to build off of. In these days of player arrests and cheating scandals, these are not small feats.
Who did what:
- Jamal Abu-Shamala started both halves, and promptly sat on the bench for the rest of each half. He scored two points in 7 minutes.
- Dan Coleman had a quiet 13 points and 5 rebounds.
- Spencer Tollackson struggled, with shooting and fouls particularly, and finished with 5 points and 5 rebounds.
- Lawrence Westbrook had what must be his 10th career high of the season. He sparked the Gopher second half surge and had 16 points and 6 rebounds, a team high for the 5’10″ guard.
- Lawrence McKenzie was horrible in the first half and brilliant in the second half. He scored 20 second half points after a turnover plagued first 20 minutes. Like the rest of the Gophers, he made his free throws (7-7 for him, 22-25 for the team).
- Blake Hoffarber missed a lot (4-13) but his willingness to shoot over the zone may have been what caused the Buckeyes to try to press the Gophers. He only had 10 points, but may have played a much bigger role in the game. I guess only Thad knows.
- Al Nolen played solid defense and made his free throws.
- Damian Johnson decided he doesn’t need to shoot to change a game, and he was right. He had 5 rebounds, 3 offensive, and played great defense as always.
- Jonathan Williams pulled down 3 offensive rebounds, but also turned the ball over 3 times.
- Kevin Payton barely played.
- Travis Busch played the last minute of the game.