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Consider the second of two exhibition games to be just a practice and the near-upset in last night’s matchup between Minnesota and the Division II powerhouse Winona State becomes a bit easier to swallow.

It would be simple enough to look back on the game  and pick apart what went wrong, what the Gophers could have improved or why almost losing to a D-II is cause for alarm as the team heads into the regular season — but treating last night’s exhibition as a regular game would just be unnecessary.  Sure, the team was careless with the ball (23 turnovers) and the three-point shooting was horrific (2-13), but with freshmen getting extended playing time and Tubby employing a non-traditional rotation of players, it’s easy to see why the game was as close as it was and why we shouldn’t even analyze it that thoroughly.

This also was arguably Winona State’s biggest game of the year, a game that doesn’t even count for Minnesota.  The Trojans have a couple former D-I players who were out to prove that they could still cut it at the top level if they wanted to, so Anthony Tucker (24 points) and CJ Erickson (14 points) came out gunning.  You at least have to hand it to the Gophers for being able to hold off a fierce, talented Winona State squad that could take down a handful of D-I schools on a regular basis, especially in a night where they didn’t bring their A-game.  Not that it’s what you’d like to see in any contest, but Minnesota treated the game like a practice and still won.

Perhaps the bigger story was that Devoe Joseph didn’t see the court.  Rumored to be injured before the exhibition games began, Joseph saw eight minutes against Northeastern State but failed to log any playing time against the Trojans.  Speculation has certainly followed, with Sid Hartman claiming severe injury while Myron Medcalf has stuck with the academics angle.  More clarity will become available as the next 24-48 hours elapse, but for now all that is certain is Joseph did not play against Winona.  After last season’s fiasco, it’s hard to rest easy when one of the team’s best players is associated with any drama.

Minnesota opens up the official 2010-11 season on Friday against the Wofford Terriers.  The game is not on TV, but will be available as a videocast on bigtennetwork.com.

Game Notes:

  • Trevor Mbakwe pulled in a double-double, scoring 11 with 11 rebounds.  He left a little to be desired at the line, though, hitting only five of 12 free throws.
  • Al Nolen scored 10 points and pulled in seven rebound to go along with four steals.
  • Rodney Williams led all Minnesota scorers with 12 points to go along with seven rebounds.

Photo courtesy of David Brewster, Star Tribune

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