It was awkward, disjointed, often sloppy, but it was a win. In a game that featured more whistles than an Andrew Bird and Bobby Mcferrin duet, the Gophers beat the Butler Bulldogs by a score of 82-73. This was Minnesota’s second non-conference top ten win in the last two seasons, and this win over Butler may have been even more impressive than last year’s win over Louisville.
It sure wasn’t pretty though. Much to the chagrin over everyone but the officials, the referees attempted to intervene early and often, and subsequently got as much camera time as any of the players. Butler and Minnesota were called for a combined 56 fouls, and the Bulldogs attempted almost as many free throws as field goal attempts, 45 and 48 respectively. Throw in another 38 combined turnovers, and this was clearly an early season show down.
Minnesota’s ugly but almost dominating performance was led by, and also mirrored by Colton Iverson. The sometimes plodding, usually awkward center was unstoppable in the first half, recording his first career double-double before halftime. In order to be consistent with the rest of the game, he missed a lay-up on his prettiest move of the night.
After three straight slow starts, Minnesota started better than usual and was down only one point at the first TV time out. The Gophers eventually built a six point lead mid-way through the first half after a jumper by Damian Johnson and a lay-up by Iverson, but Butler showed they were determined to stick around, and eventually built their own four point lead mostly at the free throw line. They made 8 free throws in the second half of their first half. A Devoe Joseph jumper, another Iverson lay-up and two free throws, and a Hoffarbar three gave the Gophers a 32-28 lead at half time.
The second half was all Gophers. Al Nolen picked up a silly foul on a Butler three point play and a stupid technical foul, and had to sit with four fouls. Butler made one of their three free-throws to cut the lead to one. Nolen was forced to sit, and it may been the best thing to happen all night. Blake Hoffarber came in and played point guard the rest of the game. His shooting ability opened up the inside where the Gophers continued to dominate, outscoring Butler 28-16 in the paint. With Iverson seemingly scoring at will, Damian Johnson found driving lanes, making three easy lay-ups. Lawrence Westbrook, who started slow and may still be feeling the effects of food poisoning that kept him out of the Utah Valley game, scored seven points during a four minute long burst, helping to push Minnesota’s lead out to seven. The Gophers extend the lead on a Damian Johnson three pointer, and the Bulldogs were on the verge of letting the game get away from them. Luckily for them, the referees stepped in. Between the eight minute mark and the three minute mark in the second half Matt Howard, went to the free throw line 9 times, and made eight free throws. During this stretch Butler twice cut the lead to five, but were thwarted each time by a Gophers three pointer. Blake Hoffarber and Devoe Joseph each repelled a Butler rally. Butler guard Shelvin Mack scored five points in 17 seconds to again put the game in doubt, but Ralph Sampson III made three free throws down the stretch to put the game away.
Minnesota’s defense will get most of the attention after this win, and it is deserved, but this was one of Minnesota’s best offensive performances in a meaningful game during the Tubby Smith Era. The Gophers shot 50% from the field and 47% from behind the three point line. In what has become a trend, the Gophers really picked up the offensive intensity in the second half, scorching the nets with 60% shooting and 67% from behind the three point line. Butler is supposedly one of the better defensive teams in the country, and the Gophers torched them. Statistically, the Gophers played better offensively in their earlier game, but considering the competition, they were simply impressive.
The defense was equally impressive. In their weakest area, defending the outside shot, the Gophers held Butler to only 22% three point shooting, and really put the clamps down in the second half holding the Bulldogs to 2-12 from behind the three point line. Butler wasn’t much better on the inside, and they shot only 33% for the game. The Bulldogs struggled even when they weren’t shooting, turning the ball over 21 times.
The Gophers showed the nation that they and the Big Ten need to be taken seriously. The Gophers effectively dominated a top ten team, and would have won by close to 20 points without the significant free throw disparity. The scary thing, at least for any team on the Gopher schedule, is they can play better. This was by far not as well as they can play, and the sky really is the limit.
With their win, the Gophers will face the Portland Pilots who absolutely destroyed UCLA. The game will be televised on ESPNU (and you probably have it somewhere in the 700s) at 8:30 pm central time.
Who did what
- Colton Iverson played a game that no one saw coming. So far this season he has struggled to catch the ball, let alone catch the ball, dribble, get a shot up, and have that shot go in. Tonight’s 13 point, eleven rebound outburst seemingly came out of nowhere. He even picked up two nice blocks and two kick out assists. We’ve seen this before from Colton, who had a similar game against Virginia last season but was never to replicate that success. We should find out very soon whether this was a fluke or a sign of things to come.
- Damian Johnson played what may have been his best offensive game as a Gopher, scoring 18 points on 7-8 shooting with a three pointer, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, a block, and 4 steals. He really does it all. Johnson has really improved his ability to finished. To really be a complete offensive player he needs to hit outside shots, and he did just that knocking down a deep three, a 15 footer from the left elbow, and a jumper a step in front of the free throw line.
- Ralph Sampson III actually played nine more minutes than Colton Iverson, but never really got into the flow of the game. He had three blocks and two steals to go with four points and four rebounds. He seemed more tentative than usual, which probably had a lot to do with the whistle-happy referees.
- Al Nolen had a rough night, and there was absolutely no excuse for kicking the ball and picking up a technical early in the second half. Nolen is supposed to be the on-court leader, and he needs to act like it no matter how poor the officiating is.
- Lawrence Westbrook sleep-walked through 23 of his 28 minutes on the court, but he woke up when it counted. The Gophers don’t need the senior guard to be on all the time every night. They do need him to step up when they need it. Unfortunately, while he was sleeping he managed to commit five turnovers.
- Paul Carter struggled with foul trouble most of the night, and the minutes he would have had were eaten up by Colton Iverson. He made his only shot attempt and finished with two points in 11 minutes.
- Justin Cobbs returned to California and gave the hometown folks a good show. He scored 5 points, all in the first half, in 7 minutes of playing time. Tubby Smith isn’t comfortable playing him in long stretches yet. With more performances like this, that may change.
- Blake Hoffarber may be one of the more underrated Gophers in terms of versatility, and is able to play the 1, 2, or 3. Against Butler he played a game high 35 minutes, most of which was at point guard. He’ll never be a traditional point guard, due to his lack of quickness, but he is able to set up the offense and give his teammates an opportunity to score. He did some scoring of his own as well, with 12 points on 3-5 three point shooting.
- Devoe Joseph never seems to take the smart shot, but makes just enough of them to continue to have the green light. He scored 14 points on 3-9 shooting. In basketball like in just about everything else, timing is everything, and his made shots came at the perfect time to keep Butler from getting too close. A little better shot selection could really make him a more efficient player.
- Rodney Williams finally played like a freshman, in that he barely played at all. He picked up two quick fouls in the first half, another almost immediately in the second half, and finished the game with 3 point and 3 fouls in 3 minutes.