And now we know how bad the Gophers can be. Throughout the non-conference season the Gophers were able to get by with flashes of brilliance, an occasional solid game, and plenty of mediocrity. Today, when they needed much more than a flash of brilliance, they could barely muster a spark.
This one was ugly. Even though the Gophers were able to back in to a one point half time deficit, Michigan State ran them off the court in the second half by 11 points on the way to a 70-58 win. To be competitive, the Gophers needed to maintain their composure, and crash the offensive glass, and they did neither. At least those who were unable to attend the game due to the time change didn’t miss much.
The game began like most Big Ten contests, much to the chagrin of the rest of the country, with a whole lot of defense but not much offense. The Gophers scored the first two points of the game two minutes in, but didn’t score again until a Travis Busch three pointer after the second TV timeout. Luckily for the Gophers, Michigan State’s offense was not much better, and they could barely top a point per minute pace. The Spartans began to pull away entering the last third of the first half, consistently maintaining leads of seven, eight, and nine points. Aided by a large foul disparity, the Gophers eventually cut the lead to one at half time. They were lucky to be this close.
In the second half the Spartans kicked their game into another gear and the Gophers kept sputtering along. Michigan State started the half with an 8-1 run, and that really was it. The Gophers frequently looked like they were about to make a run, and like clockwork, the Spartans raced down the court for easy transition baskets. Whether they were tired, unprepared, rattled, or all three, it became abundantly clear that the Gophers could only play with the Spartans on Michigan State’s terms, and the Spartan’s were no longer interested in playing nice.
When the Spartan’s weren’t interested in just running past the Gophers, they were jumping over them. The Gophers poor rebounding had not cost them a win yet, but this weakness is now glaring and has been exposed. The Gophers played excellent defense (sans transition, yikes) and forced some ugly turnovers, but they gave the Spartans too many chances. Michigan State had 16 offensive rebounds compared to 19 total rebounds for the Gophers. In total the Spartans out-rebounded the Gophers by 19. Those offensive rebounds resulted in an 11 shot advantage, and plenty of second chance points that the Gophers were unable to overcome.
Tubby Smith tried throwing every line up imaginable against the Spartans, and it just made things worse. Players were rarely able to get a feel for the game and their teammates. Everyone other than Kevin Payton played at least five minutes, and only one, Al Nolen, played more than 30. With a struggling team, their is a natural tendency to switch things up, but I wonder if things would have at least improved a little if the same five guys were on the court for two minutes at a time. It was apparent that Tubby Smith does not trust the new players at all, and doesn’t seem to even know who the best five players are at this point. If the shuffling continues, expect the Gophers to continue to struggle.
If the Gophers were looking for an opportunity to compare themselves to the Big Ten elite, they certainly got it. Now they will have to learn how to compensate for their weakness in quick fashion. Another tall and athletic team comes to The Barn this Saturday when the Gophers face the Ohio State Buckeyes. Its never good to start the conference season with a home loss, and now the Gophers face the very real possibility of losing two. Luckily, road teams have been dominant on the first day of the conference season, hopefully mitigating Minnesota’s tough early conference schedule.
Who did what?
- Damian Johnson, for the first time since he became a prominent player, just didn’t show up. He missed all four field goal attempts and only made three free throws. On a day when the Gophers desperately needed rebounds, he had two.
- Ralph Sampson III struggled with foul trouble, like so many freshman do in the Big Ten. He took only one shot, which missed, and was shut out in all other categories except fouls, where he had four.
- Colton Iverson struggled offensively, but was the only Gopher willing to throw his body around. He led the team with seven rebounds but also had four turnovers.
- Al Nolen was the only Gopher that played anything like his normal self. He led the team in scoring and assists, and was second in rebounding.
- Lawrence Westbrook became much more assertive in the second half when Minnesota’s offense ground to a halt, but most of his 12 points came with the outcome already decided.
- Jonathan Williams is still the primary source for Minnesota’s rebounding woes. Depite extended minutes due to Sampson’s foul trouble, he had only one rebound. He should also never attempt another 15 foot shot. Unfortunately he made the 15 footer he attempted (an uncalled bank) which will probably just encourage him to keep jacking them up.
- Blake Hoffarber scored off the dribble! Really, I couldn’t believe it myself. His three pointers weren’t falling though, and he didn’t have a really good look all day. Minnesota wasn’t setting screens, and when that doesn’t happen, neither does Hoffarber.
- Devoe Joseph was really the only bright spot of the day (Nolen’s solid all around play is now expected). Getting a chance to play in position as a shooting guard paired with Al Nolen, the Canadian scored five points on 2-3 shooting with two steals and only one turnover.
- Travis Busch can be an emergency interior player against barely DI teams, but he just can’t compete with the big boys, no matter how many times he falls on the floor. He made 4-7 field goals, almost all of which were wide open, but had only one rebound in 17 minutes.
- Devron Bostick played five minutes, and didn’t get much of a chance to do anything but throw up a jump hook. Dear Devron, you are at least six inches too short for that.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala played seven mediocre minutes.
- Paul Carter scored two points in eight minutes.