As I walked out of Williams Arena on Wednesday night, I was thinking my first paragraph of my game review would be spent trying to convince myself that the Gophers would be ok even if Paul Carter would miss several weeks. Fortunately, I won’t have to, as what looked like a very severe ankle injury that took place when Ralph Sampson III fell into Paul Carter’s ankle is only a sprain, and Carter should probably be able to play if absolutely needed as soon as Saturday. Luckily, nothing was able to tarnish the Gophers’ dismantling of Eastern Washington.
Led by Colton Iverson’s career high (I’m not quite sure when career highs become relevant for freshman) 21 points and an err of confidence from the entire team, the Gophers defeated Eastern Washington by a score of 88-67. The team’s best game of the season came despite Lawrence Westbrook, the Gophers’ leading scorer, not playing a single minute, and their second leading scorer, Al Nolen, scoring only two points. But when five players score 11 or more points, there are plenty of people to pick up the slack.
Minnesota’s victory was their most impressive of the season by far. The offense was outstanding, and reverted the familiar stagnancy on one or two possessions. The Gophers shot 58.6% for the game, and an even more impressive 63.3% in the first half. The three point shooting was much better than against Colorado State, a respectable 43% without any poorly timed or particularly forced shots. Most impressive of all were Minnesota’s 22 assists on 34 made field goals, all while committing only 9 turnovers. The previous season high for assists was 16 against Bowling Green, and the season low for turnovers was 13 against Georgia State.
On the defensive end, the Gophers were unfortunately a bit suspect. The Gophers forced a season low number of turnovers, and gave up 53% shooting in the first half despite the Eagles losing the services of their best interior player, Brandon Moore, for most of the first half with a cut above his eyebrow that required stitches. It certainly didn’t help the Benny Valentine, an allegedly 5’7” guard who is closer to 5’3” played the best game of his life. Valentine scored a game high 29 points (on 21 shots, so it is slightly less impressive) on a series of ridiculous flailing drives, deep falling down threes, and ridiculous runners that had no business going in. Eastern Washington eventually cooled down in the second half, but it was still the second best shooting showing by a Gopher opponent this year.
As you might expect against a team that is just plain short, the Gophers out rebounded the Eagles. They pulled in ten offensive rebounds, the same number as Eastern Washington, even though the Eagles missed seven more shots, and had 5 rebound advantage on the defensive end.
When review the keys to the game, Minnesota did everything they needed to to come away with blow out win. The Gophers didn’t run, run, run, but they ran enough to keep the Eagles of balance and made good decisions on the fast break. As evidenced by the impressive assist total and low number of turnovers, the Gophers passed extremely well, and it led to plenty of points on the inside. Their free throw shooting, which had been dreadful couldn’t have been much better as they made 14 of 16.
But confidence was the deciding factor. The Gophers who have looked tentative and rattled at times as they continue to learn to play together were aggressive on both ends of the court and took the game over early on. Eastern Washington did manage a nice run in the second half getting within 10 points, were quickly repelled as the Gophers won going away. On Wednesday night we got our first glimpse of this team’s potential. In the next week, we will see if they can sustain their success.
Who did what?
- Blake Hoffarber struggled from the outside, making only 1-5 three pointers, but showing how far he has come since last year, made 4-5 two point shots. All of these came as he cut to the basket or finished on the fast break. He won’t break anyone’s ankles in the half court yet, but he is no longer a one dimensional scoring threat.
- Al Nolen got run ragged on the defensive end by Benny Valentine, but had 7 assists and no turnovers to go along with 2 points and two steals. Whether he can score and pass in the same game is still a mystery.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala continues to have his best season as Gopher, scoring 11 points on 4-5 shooting. His three point shot is there, and like Hoffarber, is much better finishing close to the basket.
- Colton Iverson was dominant. Tubby Smith mandated that the perimeter players give him the ball, and they did, and made the most of his many opportunities. He scored 20 points on 10-13 shooting. If that wasn’t enough to impress, he added 5 rebounds (4 offensive), 4 assists, a block, with no fouls and no turnovers. Don’t mess with Yankton.
- Devron Bostick may finally have his confidence back, and the Gopher might have another dangerous weapon. Bostick didn’t miss a shot, making three three-pointers along with a dunk. He also added four rebounds and two steals with only one turnover.
- Ralph Sampson III played well as well, cleaning up the garbage on the offensive end. He scored nine points, nearly all on put backs, as he collected 7 rebounds *4 offensive) and managed to stay out of foul trouble.
- Travis Busch thinks he is Michael Jordan after his first come back. With Sampson cleaning up the garbage, Busch decided it was a good opportunity to take fall away turnaround jumpers. It wasn’t pretty, but he did make 5 free throws.
- Devoe Joseph had an average game with 5 points, but added three turnovers. It would have been nice to see him have more chances with Westbrook missing the game.
- Damian Johnson is the same old Damian Johnson, and I couldn’t be happier. He scored 11 points on 5-6 shooting. He had only one rebound, but made up for that with 2 assists, 2 steals and two blocks.
- Paul Carter sprained his ankle and only played nine minutes, but he should be back soon.
- Kevin Payton, more fouls than shot attempts.