I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being a bit nervous throughout most of the first half of the Gophers 82-42 win over the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Over the weekend Iowa lost to Southland Conference also-ran UT-San Antonio, and for a while at least it appeared that the Lumberjacks had an upset on their mind.
The Gophers started extremely slow because they were moving way too fast. Tubby Smith explained during the post-game show that he had made it a point of emphasis for his team to try to play a fast game. The Gophers used this as motivation to rush every shot, make passes without looking, and play sloppy and undisciplined basketball. Paul Carter tried to make a lay-up/jump-shot six feet out from and a foot or so underneath the basket. Physics just won’t let that happen, unless Carter has found a way to put some english on an airborne basketball. Devoe Joseph was about half a second from severely injuring himself and the two or three people in wheelchairs about 10 feet to the left of the basket if he wasn’t saved by a Lumberjack defender who stepped in just in to pick up the charge and prevent Joseph from tumbling off the court.
In my preview of the UMD game I mentioned that any issues with the team due to off-court issues would be obvious, and they wouldn’t be the typical pre-season sloppiness. After seemingly shrugging away the drama that has surrounded the team over the last week, distractions may finally be catching up to them. For most of the first half they just seemed out of it, and who can blame them? With rumors swirling and court dates pending, basketball may not seem so important right now.
Then Rodney Williams stepped in. He provided not just instant offense with three dunks, but instant energy. His formerly blase teammates suddenly remembered that above all else, basketball is supposed to be fun. The crowd came to life. The defense became suffocating. The offense came together. The lead grew from 1 point with 3:30 left in the first half to 48-21 with 14:27 left. This team has spurtability.
Once again the Gophers showed that they are not a team to be judged by the first few minutes or even the first half. They shot 3-8 to start the game to go along with seven turnovers in the first seven minutes of action. They finished the first half shooting 45% with ten turnovers, showing that their play did improve.
The second half was reminiscent of the absolute demolition of Cornell last year. The defense locked down, leading to plenty of easy baskets to the tune of 21 points off turnovers, 11 on the fast break. The Gophers outscored the Lumberjacks 56-23 in the second half on 61% shooting and 9 forced turnovers.
Minnesota’s defensive numbers were impressive as always, holding Stephen F. Austin to 30% shooting and 21.4% from behind the three point line. The Achilles’ Heal of the ball-line defense may have finally been healed. For the season the Gophers are holding opponents to 27.6% shooting from behind the three point line, not great, but good enough that is no longer a major issue. Overall, their defense ranks seventh in the country through their first two games.
It is better to start slow than finish slow, but against better teams it will take a consistent game to win. The Gophers have a little over a week until the real season starts in a big way against Butler. Consistency needs to happen, and soon.
Who did what:
- Rodney Williams did this
might have earned himself in the starting line-up. He replaced Paul Carter to start the second half, and scored 14 points on 5-6 shooting with two more three pointers. Big Ten freshman of the year? Quite possibly.
- Lawrence Westbrook continues his red-hot shooting. He made 3 more three point shots on the way to 15 points. The senior captain is now shooting 65% from the floor and 58% from three. Do people still think he shoots too much?
- Devoe Joseph led the way during the dreadful opening half, and then played extremely well after a first half benching. He also scored 15 points and 5-7 shooting as well as connecting on all three of his three point attempts. More importantly, he displayed great maturity by calming down after a rough start.
- Paul Carter never found himself on offense attempting only two shots. As usual, he pulled down 6 rebounds in only 20 minutes. If he does lose his starting spot to Rodney Williams, the Gophers will need to find rebounding somewhere.
- Damian Johnson’s lack of rebounding is now a real concern as he pulled in only one all night. Johnson usually attempts to block shots and because of that isn’t in position to rebound. That is fine if he gets the block, but even when he is at his best he’s not going to block more than three or four shots in a game. Against better teams those missed blocks will lead to second chance points. I’m really just being picky, and can’t complain too loudly about an 11 point, 5 assist, 3 block, 5 steal night.
- Al Nolen has resigned himself to finding his offense through others. He only attempted two shots, and didn’t score, but his 7 assists made up for it.
- Justin Cobbs made his first three-pointer as a Gopher, and made 4-4 free-throws. Minnesota’s free-throw worries are put off for another game. They made 13-14 at the line, and getting the right people to the line is the big reason. Cobbs’ quick first step and aggressive drives to the basket should earn him plenty of chances for some easy points.
- Ralph Sampson III showed scary move #3 of the young season, a sweeping left-handed sky hook that no one will be able to stop. His new moves and new rebounding ability, 11 on Monday night, should start to gain him some national attention, and not just because of his name.
- Blake Hoffarber continued his good enough shooting with 2-5 three point shooting and four rebounds.
- Colton Iverson had four turnovers, and this is beginning to be problematic. Tubby Smith loves to put his big-men at the top of the key to find cutters, but this doesn’t seem to be the best role for the Sophomore from South Dakota. Put him under the basket and let him go to work.