Winning wasn’t the biggest concern when the Gophers played at Ohio State on Saturday night. A win would have been nice, but the real concern was how the Gophers would respond to one of their worst losses in recent years. Though the outcome was not what was desired, the Gophers played a competitive game that they can build on.
The Gophers lost to the Buckeyes 64-58, a score that should not have been unexpected. Many expected this to be a loss at the beginning of the season, including myself, so its hard to work up the prerequisite angst and rage that is all too often the norm for Gopher fans with out of whack expectations, especially considering that the Gophers had a very real chance to win the game, being only down three points with two minutes left.
Minnesota came out confident and in the same zone defense that befuddled the Buckeyes at The Barn in the second game of the Big Ten season. As usual, the offense at the beginning of the game was anything but, and Minnesota scored only four points in the first four minutes. Ohio State scored only two. With inside scoring, the Gophers eventually pushed the lead out to six, but then the shots stopped falling, even from an inch or two away and the bad turnovers mounted. The six point lead turned into an eight point lead that the Buckeyes would relinquish only briefly with the scored tied at 29 early in the second half.
The Gophers would not have had a chance had Blake Hoffarber not happened. The too much maligned Sophomore slumper busted out in a big way, scoring 19 points in the last 13 minutes of the game, all on three pointers and a free throw that resulted in a four point play. Hoffarber let the Gophers hang around, but every time they needed a stop the Buckeyes answered, or the Gophers just messed up. Often times it was a missed lay-up, as the shot chart shows, the Gophers made only 17-26 supposedly unmissable shots. If half the easy shots go down, the Gophers win comfortably, but it wasn’t to be. When they weren’t missing shots from point blank range it was bad turnovers. The real nail in Minnesota’s coffin was free throw shooting. They made only 7-11. Those four extra points would have had the Gophers within one point in the final minute. Instead, the Gophers missed their last three free throw attempts, and forced frantic shots and fouls. Ohio State knocked down their free throws, and knocked the Gophers down a rung in the standings.
There were positives though. This wasn’t like the Michigan State game where the only thing to build on was the fact that the game was over and only counted as one loss. The Gophers rebounded, and rebounded, and out-rebounded the Buckeyes by seven including five on the offensive end. Against Michigan State, the Gophers looked demoralized and their effort matched. On Saturday the Gophers effort was not lacking, and they chased down the majority of loose balls. Minnesota’s defense was also hard to criticize. The Buckeyes had made 54% or more of their shots in each of their last four games, but managed to shoot only 42% against the Gophers. Evan Turner, who could very well be the conference player of the year, was held to 4-14 shooting. And what to say about Blake Hoffarber? He is back.
Winning on the road in the Big Ten is not easy, and the scheduling gods were particularly cruel in putting the Spartans and the Buckeyes on the same road trip. Luckily, things get easier now, with winnable games (yes, even at Illinois) the rest of the season. If the Gophers win out at home, starting on Tuesday against Indiana, the Gophers will be playing meaningful post season games this season. Even if they drop one, they could make up for it with a road win. Still not bad for a rebuilding year.
Who did what?
- Damian Johnson made almost everything from close in, shut down Turner, and had a team high ten rebounds. Now if only he had a mid-range jumper.
- Ralph Sampson never got going, and fouled out after two points on only two shots.
- Colton Iverson looked a lot better than he has lately, but still can’t seem to find wide open teammates with passes from the post.
- Al Nolen was dreadful. For the life of me I can’t figure out why he is incapable of getting the offense set up with more than 15 seconds on the shot clock. If he could consistently do something with so little time on the shot clock it would be one thing, but instead he puts his teammates in no win situations with the shot clock running out, or, as he did five times on Saturday, he turns the ball over. An offense without a point guard does not work, and right now Nolen isn’t working.
- Lawrence Westbrook and his infinite streakiness never got going. He scored only four points and never got to the line. It was nice to seem some hustle though, flying over the scorers table for a loose ball and pulling in seven rebounds as the shortest man on the court.
- Paul Carter still can’t finish. Hopefully that will change with time, because his freakish athleticism is unmatched by any other Gopher. He made only one of six field goals, and one of three lay-ups, to go along with his two missed free throws.
- Devoe Joseph should see his playing time go up, especially against the lowly Hoosiers on Tuesday. He had five points, two assists, and no turnovers.
- Jonathan Williams cost the Gophers about 10 points in his three minutes of action.
- Devron Bostick got five minutes, not enough time to do anything.
- Blake Hoffarbar single-handedly gave the Gophers a chance with his second half outburst. He won’t go for six threes every game, but defenses will need to respect his shot and will need to hedge off the interior players, hopefully giving the offense some space to operate.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala made the slowest and most awkward coast to coast lay-up in basketball history. There really are no words to describe it.