Damian is back!

Damian is back!

The Minnesota Golden Gophers, led by Junior forward Damian Johnson, overcame a horrific start to beat the much improved Colorado State in the final minute, 72-71. Johnson, who had been the entire season with knee and hand injuries, sparked the Gophers with what has now become his patented all-around game changing performance. With 18.9 seconds left, Johnson found a streaking Paul Carter on a wrap around pass, and Carter made the game winning lay up. It was one of Johnson’s team leading 5 assists.

For those in the Twin Cities area unfortunate to not have the Direct TV sports pack, the beginning of the game was almost a complete mystery. The alternative radio station, 950 am, inexplicably switched to hockey coverage just before tip-off, and even more inexplicably, WCCO insisted on running their post-game coverage of a football game that every Gopher fan had tuned out about two hours earlier. Radio coverage finally began about halfway through the first half. Luckily, we didn’t miss much.

Settling for outside shots and shunning their inside game, Minnesota launched their first six shots from behind the three point line, and only made one (Damian Johnson). Their ball handling skills might have been even worse than their shooting. After 8 turnovers in the first 12 minutes, Minnesota found themselves down 23-11.

Then Hoffarber happened. Blake Hoffarber, Mister Espy himself, re-found his shooting form that had been lost since his memorable last second basket against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament. In the last 6 and a half minutes of the first half, Hoffarber scored 17 points, and brought the Gophers within two points when the score was 27-25. That was as close as the Gophers got in the first half as Colorado State state took advantage of Minnesota’s many fouls earlier in the half, and were able to push the lead out to 38-32 at half time. The Gophers were much closer than they should have been at the half.

In the second half the Gophers turned on the pressure which was the hallmark of last year’s non-conference season. The Gophers forced three turnovers in the first minute and a half of the second half, cutting the lead to two. After a jumper by Al Nolen and a dunk by strep-throat inflicted Ralph Sampson III, and another jumper by Lawrence Westbrook the Gophers had a four point lead, 48-44. After two lay-ups by Minnesota’s freshman centers, the lead inched out to five 52-47. During this 11 point swing, the Gophers forced 6 turnovers and improved their shooting dramatically. After making only 37% of their shots in the first half, they made nine of their first 15 shots in the second half. Colorado State, which shot 52% in the first half, shot 60% during this stretch of the second half, but were only able to get off five shots.

After trading baskets for the next seven minutes Travis Busch gave the Gophers a 66-60 lead, their largest of the game, on a layup off a rebound from a missed free throw. Then the wheels all but came off for the Gophers as the Gophers again ran into turnover problems and Minnesota native Dan Vanderviernen hit the offensive glass a couple of layups. What had been a 66-60 lead for the Gophers suddenly became a 67-60 Rams lead. With the game on the verge of slipping away, Al Nolen made a free throw and hit three pointer with 1:42 left in the game, Al Nolen’s 36th minute of the night. With 42 seconds left, Andy Ogide, who gave the Gophers fits all night, made a free throw after Colton Iverson fouled out to give the Rams a one point lead.

The next trip down Johnson found Carter for what was the game winning basket, but the real game winner came on the defensive end for Johnson. With 7 seconds left Johnson blocked Marcus Walker’s lay-up attempt with 7 seconds left. After a five second scrum that left both Johnson and Al Nolen shaken up, Colorado State had the ball with .9 seconds left. Their inbounds play couldn’t have been more perfect, but Andre MacFarland came up short on a wide open three pointer, and the Gophers escaped.

Minnesota’s half-court offense again struggled. The offense didn’t get going until the defense started forcing turnovers. They did manage 106 points per 100 possessions but that still might not get the job done against better competition. If they had averaged that for the season, they would be ranked 97 in the country, between San Diego and San Francisco. The key on the offensive end was a simple as having more chances. Despite a size disadvantage the Gophers chased down 19 offensive rebounds. Colorado State was only able to gather in 22 defensive rebounds. Minnesota turnover total of 17, compared to only 13 assists is troubling, but not as troubling as the Gophers only shooting 7-13 from the free throw line.

Defensively. the Gopher press was the story, forcing 20 turnovers. They were also able to hold the Rams to 40% shooting. The aggressive defense came at a price, as the Gophers committed 24 fouls in the game, and Colton Iverson fouled out and was largely ineffective due to foul trouble most of the night, playing only 11 minutes.

On a night when the University of Minnesota needed a win, a young Gopher team rallied for a big win. With such a young team, a close loss could have been devastating to their fragile psyche. Instead, a come from behind win in their first road game of the season could be a huge confidence builder for a team that his still learning, especially how to win.

Who did what?

  • Jamal Abu-Shamala played 8 minutes, and other than taking up space didn’t do anything but miss two shots and commit a foul.
  • Damian Johnson’s offensive game is still rusty, and he made only 2-6 shots, but he did everything else to help the Gophers win. He finished with 6 points and had 5 rebounds, three on the offensive end. Most importantly he got nine “others” with 5 assists, three blocks and a steal.
  • Colton Iverson played pretty well while he was in, making both field goal attempts and pulling in two rebounds, but the Gophers will need more than 11 minutes from Iverson in most games this season.
  • Al Nolen demonstrated great leadership during his whopping 37 minutes (at altitude!) on the court. He had 16 points, but did have four turnovers.
  • Lawrence Westbrook was the main culprit in the bad shot bonanza to start the game. He scored only 6 points in 18 minutes, and may be on his way to Tubby’s doghouse.
  • Paul Carter played his best game of the season, and not coincidentally, concentrated his offensive game on the inside. He made 3-4 shots, including the game winner, and finished 8 points, 4 rebounds (3 offensive) and added 2 assists and no turnovers.
  • Kevin Payton played 10 minutes, and has officially passed…
  • Devron Bostick in the rotation. Bostick played only one minute, and managed to commit a foul and a turnover. A close game on the road is not the time or the place to build confidence, but there is growing concern that he is losing Tubby’s trust.
  • Devoe Joseph played only 9 minutes, but scored 5 points making both his shot attempts, including a three pointer.
  • Travis Busch, despite being relatively short and very unathletic, led the Gophers in rebounding with 6 including and had 4 points. He played primarily power forward, and held his own. Unfortunately, as Down with Goldy points out “There is no reason for him to shoot a three-pointer, ever. There is not reason for him to come off a screen 17 feet from the hoop and catch-and-shoot.” He has a role, but that ain’t it. Despite some dubious decision making, the Gophers probably would have lost without Busch.
  • Blake Hoffarber played almost the exact same game as he did last year. A huge first half, and an invisible second half. Hoffarber will need to find a way to adjust his game in the second half, because the Gophers need the points.
  • Ralph Sampson, despite a stiff neck, eye brow stitches, and strep throat played a strong 10 minutes, even though he was not supposed to play at all. He only scored two points and pulled down only 3 rebounds, but I don’t know where those 10 minutes would have come from if he had not been able to play.

A special thanks to everyone who participated in our first live blog last night. I thought it was a big success.

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