In a game that had the appearance of a trap for Minnesota, the Gophers traveled to Pennsylvania for their first true road game of year and took down the St. Joseph’s Hawks 83-73 behind Trevor Mbakwe’s double-double and timely threes from Blake Hoffarber and Devoe Joseph.
Joseph responded to getting his first start of the season by leading the team with 19 points on 6-11 shooting including 4-6 from behind the line. Hoffarber nearly matched him with 14 points, going 4-6 from three-point land as well.
The Gophers knew going in to Hagen Arena would not be easy. The 4,000-seat arena feels more like a high school gymnasium than a Division-I college facility and fans sit about as close to the action as is allowable. With a Gopher team full of freshman playing in their first official game as a visitor, many fans were concerned how the team would respond to it’s first road test of the season.
Consider the test passed.
Minnesota showed poise throughout, responding to strong surges from SJU with runs of their own. After the Hawks cut the Gopher lead to one with 14 minutes left in the game, Minnesota went on a quick 13-point run to quickly put themselves in a commanding lead and one which they never relinquished. With memories of a large lead erased in a similar situation against Virginia, the Gophers made sure that lighting would not strike twice.
St. Joseph’s game plan largely revolved around trying to beat Minnesota with the three-ball; a strategy that worked well for Virginia. One problem, however, was that the Hawks couldn’t get anything going from behind the arc, shooting 9-29 and allowing the Gophers to quicken the tempo of the game with outlet passes off of long rebounds. The Hawks offense centered on Carl Jones and Langston Galloway who dropped 29 and 21 points, respectively, and were very active in the backcourt.
St. Joseph’s, though, was largely ineffective down low and had no answer for Mbakwe, who finished with 12 points to go along with 16 rebounds. Unlike the Cornell game, Mbakwe didn’t get to the line once; something to applaud, considering how much of a circus his trips to the line have been so far this season.
The Gophers never fed into the emotion of being on the road by panicking whenever things didn’t go their way. On the contrary, Hoffarber and Joseph quelled any SJU runs with timely threes and looked like the mature team that everyone has expected them to be. Even with Al Nolen sitting on the bench, Minnesota tried to involve as many different parts of their team in the offense and executed a fantastic inside-outside dynamic to keep the Hawks off balance. The bench was a huge factor as well, with the team’s four freshmen combining for 26 points.
In the end, St. Joseph’s only answer was to chuck three-pointers and hope they got hot, though it was slightly concerning that they felt comfortable actually attempting so many. However, the Gopher defense is designed to take away any easy shots inside and around the paint and force teams to beat them from the outside. Against a relatively poor-shooting team like St. Joseph’s, that type of defensive mindset worked wonders. The Hawks had stretches of consecutive points, but were never really in a position to take over the game and the general feel was that Minnesota was in complete control.
Who did what:
- Devoe Joseph was the offensive star of the game, hitting a huge three pointer with just under four minutes left to put Minnesota up by eight points after SJU had cut the lead to five. In his first start of the year, Joseph finished with a team 19 points to go along with three assists. Perhaps more important, he looked like more of the level-headed leader that the team needs him to be with Nolen on the bench, not driving the lane uncontrollably or taking head-scratching shots.
- Trevor Mbakwe was, once again, an animal. Pulling down rebound after rebound, 16 in all and four on the offensive side, Mbakwe bullied the Hawks down low. He ended with 12 points without going to the free throw line once.
- Blake Hoffarber recovered from what looked like a dangerous ankle injury to log the most minutes on the team and hit a couple crucial threes the nip runs by SJU. Coming down on an opposing player’s foot after hitting a shot, Hoffarber limped off the court just before halftime. The injury proved to be minimal, however, and Hoffarber returned to action shortly after. He ended up with 14 points on four three-pointers and couple free throws.
- Rodney Williams logged only eight minutes, scoring two points. It’s unclear whether his lack of playing time is performance related or injury related, but the bottom line is that he is currently not getting much time on the court.
- Ralph Sampson III looked pitiful in the first half, but rebounded to finish with 1o points and five rebounds. I’ll explore this in a later post, but Sampson’s play recently is quite concerning for the Gophers. He ended the night with five turnovers and four fouls, which points to the fact that his head is just not in the game.
- Mo Walker had a career high 10 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Much of his all around performance came in the first half, but it was encouraging to see Walker have such a solid performance in his 15 minutes. With Sampson struggling, Walker may end up being thrust into a larger role more quickly than we think.
- Austin Hollins was the epitome of “solid off the bench,” scoring six points, snatching four steals and dishing out four assists in his 29 minutes.
- Chip Armelin and Mav Ahanmisi filled out the freshmen contingent adding four and six points, respectively. Ahanmisi was 4-4 from the line.
- Colton Iverson had an unspectacular 1o minutes, scoring zero points and picking up two fouls.
Photo courtesy of Tom Mihalek, Associated Press