Despite a slow start that saw them down 32-27 at halftime against an inferior opponent, the Gophers re-established their inside presence and utilized their athletic ability to take down the Akron Zips 66-58 in their last game before an eight-day finals break. The Gophers, #21 in the nation, now sit at 10-1 on the season.
A quick aside — I’ve been using the username “zipsofakron” for as long as I can remember, dating back to about 1996. Though I’ve been a lifelong, albeit lukewarm, Akron Zips fan, never have I ever had to choose between the Gophers or Zips in either basketball or football. Tonight’s game finally broke the streak and, of course, I willingly sided with Gopher Nation. If Minnesota ever faces Murray State, another team I’ve always had interest in, then we might be in trouble.
ANYWAYS. Minnesota got out to a pretty sluggish start. On a night where Blake Hoffarber was expected to join the elusive 1,000-point club, you’d think the Gophers might have come out with a bit more energy. However, falling in line with what we’ve seen in recent games, the team started out slowly and found themselves down early. Ten turnovers in the first half didn’t help and neither did having Lawrence Westbrook Devoe Joseph starting at point guard who, again, frustrated fans with bad shots, bad passes, and a penchant for giving the ball to the other team.
However, I’ve never been a big fan of looking at the halftime score as any sort of indicator. Far too often people think, “Omigod, we’re losing to team worse than us at halftime. We must be bad!” Not true. I always think back to when my crappy, Division III alma mater was tied at halftime with Division I Loyola. It was cool, but we just couldn’t hang with them for 40 minutes. We’ve seen the same thing all season with the Gophers too. They get down early due to mental mistakes and lack of concentration, but wear out the opponent and the second half goes along.
Of course, this has been against teams from the Summit League, Mid-American Conference, etc. It’ll be a different story when teams like Wisconsin, Ohio State and Illinois come to town. Getting down early against better teams is just asking for trouble.
That’s not to say that the game was well-played, however, and it was the first time that the team didn’t break 70 points since the opening contest against Wofford. The team, again, left A LOT to be desired at the line (55%) and only hit 4-16 three pointers . They shot a decent 41% from the field, but the offensive performance was nothing to write home about. For or better or for worse, Minnesota plays to their level of competition. They play up to the West Virginias and North Carolinas, but down to the Akrons and Cornells, which is frustrating.
The bottom line, though, in this one is that the Gophers got it done against a team they were supposed to get it done against. They made some mistakes, but cleaned up their play in a way that allowed them to take back the lead. This included going down low and bullying a smaller team with their frontcourt. I’m not sure why we didn’t do this all game (or why we haven’t done it all game against every team we’ve faced at home so far), but the second half showed that it’s still incredibly difficult for small teams to match up against us.
Also, we really, really, really miss Al Nolen. He is the lubrication of this offense and it’s an entirely different animal without him. It was amazing news to hear that he might be back earlier than expected, and maybe as soon as the South Dakota State game. This team needs him to return before the conference season starts.
Who did what:
- Trevor Mbakwe did his double-double thing, scoring 13 points to match his 13 rebounds. The dude has just been a monster this season against the non-conference opponents and they really just can’t stop him. The only downfall was that he STILL shot awfully from the free throw line, going 3-7. Seriously, if Mbakwe is going to battle down low and draw fouls, he’s going to have to start cashing in at the stripe.
- Ralph Sampson III had a “meh” game, putting up seven points but only grabbing two rebounds and finishing 3-7 from the field. I thought we were on to something after the Eastern Kentucky game with Sampson, but that might have been a mirage.
- Rodney Williams had arguably his best game of the season, throwing down dunks left and right, scoring 12 points and pulling in 10 rebounds. Getting Rodney going before the Big Ten season could be a huge boon for the team, who was relying on him growing as a player in his second season. He’s been invisible for much of the season, so hopefully this is sign of better things to come.
- Blake Hoffarber scored his 1,000th point early in the game and finished with 13 points despite hitting only two of seven three-point attempts. He more than made up for it in other regards, though, dishing out seven assists including a momentum-driving alley-oop to Rodney Williams.
- Devoe Joseph once again looked lost as point guard, trying to score first and pass second. Honestly, the team might be better off with someone like Hoffarber or Mav Ahanmisi running the point and keeping Joseph solely at shooting guard. The guy can score, yes, but he definitely hurts the flow of the offense. Joseph finished with 11 points but turned the ball over five times.
- The bench got little playing time, which hasn’t been the recent case. The freshmen+Colton Iverson combined for only 10 points though Iverson and Mo Walker pulled down 11 rebounds.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune.