Braving blizzard-like conditions and hitting the floor without one of their leaders, the Gophers overcame a slow start against a pesky 1-3-1 zone to take down Eastern Kentucky in game that was expected to be a blowout from the beginning.
The Gophers came out scoring quickly at the very outset of the game but quickly fell behind on account of hot shooting by EKU’s Justin Stommes and sloppy play. Committing 11 turnovers in the first half, Minnesota found themselves down 22-13 and seemingly not having an answer for yet another team that employed a 1-3-1 zone.
Tightening up the defense and using their athletic advantage, however, the Gophers began to penetrate the zone and draw fouls to cash in, going on a 12-0 run to take a three-point lead into halftime, capped off by a successful half-court heave at the buzzer by Mav Ahanmisi.
The second half was a complete reversal, however, as the Gophers basically laid down the law from end to end. In fact, Minnesota started the half scoring the first 15 points of the half, holding the Colonels scoreless in the first 10 minutes and never really looked back, ending the day shooting 52% from the field.
In a seeming reversal, Minnesota figured out EKU’s 1-3-1, which was encouraging, and basically scored at will in the second half, dropping 53 points to stay in complete control. Further, the Gophers did a good job of containing Stomme, the Colonels’ only direct scoring threat, which took away basically any chance for EKU to score.
Other takeaways from the game included a breakout of Ralph Sampson III, who scored 19 points, pulled down eight rebounds and committed only one foul. His head seemed to be focused on the game, which is a complete 180 of what we’ve seen recently. Also, and it might be overlooked, but I was definitely nervous about the initial performance against the EKU zone, which seemed to confuse the Gophers as badly as a Northwestern zone. It worked at first, as Minnesota continually threw the ball away and tried to dribble into traffic. However, they encouragingly figured out what they were doing wrong and did a fantastic job in the second half moving the ball around, breaking down the zone and getting high-percentage shots.
In the end, Minnesota was expected to dominate the weakest opponent they would face all year and, aside from a stretch in the first half, did just that.
Who did what:
- Trevor Mbakwe shot well from the field, which is easy when each attempt you take is a massive throwdown. Mbakwe filled up the highlight reel with several backboard-rattling dunks, scoring 14 points on 6-9 shooting.
- Ralph Sampson III was the player of the game, scoring 19 points, pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out four assists. It was great to see Sampson rebound from a slew of miserable game to see a more focused effort. However, it’ll be interesting to see if he can string together a few more solid efforts to show us that he can be the go-to guy we expect him to be.
- Blake Hoffarber was his normal, solid self, hitting timely threes to keep the Gophers lead in comfortable double digits and making jaw-dropping passes that almost make you want anoint him the starting point guard. Hoffarber scored 14 points on three three-pointers and two free throws.
- Rodney Williams got the start at small forward and received significant playing time, but failed to capitalize, scoring only two points in 22 minutes.
- Devoe Joseph had a relatively quite game offensively, scoring only six points on 2-8 shooting, but the bigger story was his performance at point guard, where he dished out six assists and committed only one foul. It was refreshing to see Joseph run the offense effectively, take smart shots (which were almost all wide-open three pointers) and help break down a pesky defense. With Nolen out for an extended period of time, the Gophers need Joseph to be a point guard first and an offensive powerhouse second.
- Chip Armelin “chipped” in two points on a flashy layup and pulled down four rebounds off the bench.
- Colton Iverson, Mo Walker, Mav Ahanmisi and Austin Hollins combined for 15 points off the bench in modest playing time.