After a less than lackluster non-loss in their first exhibition game, Minnesota’s highly heralded recruits led the Gophers to a 92-62 win over Northern State on Thursday night.
Coming just three days after what was almost a catastrophic loss, the new Gophers looked much more comfortable on the court. Gone was the bad positioning and forced shots. Instead, they played aggressively on both ends of the court, and in general, made much better decisions. Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III showed that they may indeed be a feared “twin towers” front court. Paul Carter was impressive as well, scoring 17 points and leading the team with 7 rebounds and as many floor burns. Old-hands, Lawrence Westbrook and Al Nolen played like the floor leaders they need to be, as Nolen cut down his turnovers and Westbrook continued to pick up his scoring.
In the early minutes of the game, it seemed like it was going to be another long night. While the defense played much better than it did against Saint Cloud State on Monday, the offense was lucky to get a shot off. Minnesota turned the ball over on 6 of 7 possessions in the first half. Once again, these were not what could be described as good turnovers. These were unforced errors due to poor decisions, worse communication, and even worse attempts to simply catch the ball. Luckily Northern State did not fare much better, and Minnesota was more often than not able to turn the Wolves 12 turnovers into easy baskets. Paul Carter led the charge in the first half for the Gophers, making all 4 of his shots including a three pointer. Al Nolen also regained his form, with 4 steals, three assists, and only 1 turnover of his own. As a team the Gophers finished the first half with 9 turnovers, but more than made up for it with their 58% shooting.
In the second half, the Gophers slowly increased their lead. Ralph Sampson established himself on the interior, no doubt aided but a 6 inch height advantage. He showed off a not particularly graceful but very affective hook shot that will be incredibly difficult to defend if he is in good position. Despite occasionally foul trouble, he made 5-6 shots in the second half. Devoe Joseph struggled with turnovers, but displayed many of the skills that made him the best high school basketball player in Canada, scoring 14 points in the second half. Even Kevin Payton got into the act with an amazing no look pass to Lawrence Westbrook on a fast break and a three point play.
The Gophers still have a lot of work to do, and they are still sometimes frustrating, but on Thursday night they demonstrated why they have the ability to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten, as long as they do not beat themselves.
Who did what:
- Travis Busch played another solid game, but got more playing time than he should have if the Gophers hope to be better than last year. He scored 6 point and did not miss a shot. He could be a Division II star! Thankfully, he also decided to shave, which helps me hate him a little less.
- Al Nolen’s improved ability to get to the basket should help the still sometimes stagnant offense. No one on Northern State could stop him on either end of the floor. Of course, they are a Division II team, but he was not beating anyone off the dribble last year.
- Paul Carter is the best player the Gophers have had since Vincent Greer. He plays like Tavarus Bennett but has Jerry Holman’s body. This is a good thing. Perhaps the best part about him though is that he hits the floor as much as your average walk-on scrub. Even on off-nights he will find a way to make the team better.
- Colton Iverson struggled with fouls, which limited his playing time. When he was in, he consistently was able to get himself into excellent rebounding position. If Spencer Tollackson had his positioning, he would have been an above average rebounder. But don’t forget, Colton can actually get off the ground.
- Lawrence Westbrook should lead the team in scoring this year. On Thursday he led the team with 19 points very, very quietly. He also was 6-6 from the free throw line and had 4 assists. He has learned how to play fast, but play in control.
- Blake Hoffarber made two three pointers and committed 4 turnovers. Need to reverse those.
- Ralph Sampson has shut up his critics for now. After Monday some wondered if he should be redshirted. Now they wonder if he could be on the all-freshman team. He made 6 of 7 shots, 3 rebounds, and no blocks. It will be interesting when he has to pick on someone his own size. One thing is certain though. He plays better when he doesn’t have a high fever.
- Devron Bostick still can’t figure out his role on the team. It may be that he is not used to not starting. It may be that he is not used to being the number one option. Whatever it is, he needs to figure it out. His 6 rebounds were nice, but his 0-5 shooting were not.
- Devoe Joseph may have a bit of Rico Tucker in him, minus the bad karma thuggishness. He is extremely quick, can’t beat everyone down the court, and can make decisions that will drive coaches crazy. He committed a turnover every three and a half minutes and really needs to slow down.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala had one rebound and 1 turnover. Not much else to say.
- Kevin Payton, at least on Thursday, looked much better than he did last season. He played in control, didn’t make any bad decisions, and didn’t take 5 minutes to decide what to do with the ball. He just might not have any time to show us what he learned.