It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, especially considering the opponent, but when the scoreboard read 0:00 one of the only things that mattered was the Gophers sitting with a higher score than their opponent.
It was an uneasy, squeamish first half for the Gophers, who couldn’t seem to find their shots, much less the bottom of the basket, and again struggled with getting into a flow on offense. Trevor Mbakwe and the inside game were invisible and the lack of a definitive three-point shooter left much to be desired at halftime. In fact, the Gophers were being outhustled to the point that they found themselves -10 in rebounding margin and failed to grab an offensive rebound in the first half.
Couple that with a sparse crowd, loud SDSU fans and a seemingly unstoppable Nate Wolters, Williams Arena had an uneasy feeling with the Gophers gripping a measly two-point lead at the half.
The second half was a different story, however, and after a slow start where they found themselves down 44-39 Minnesota ripped off an 18-1 run to take the lead for good and send the Jackrabbits back down Interstate 90. Concentrating on using their athletic advantage and physical presence, the Gophers (behind a Mav Ahanmisi spark, no less) tightened up on defense to shut down Wolters and the only chance SDSU had. When the dust settled it was Minnesota on top 71-55 and you never would have known they got outplayed for two-thirds of a game.
The contest unveiled a couple things, mainly that the team is still figuring out who it is. There are a lot of newcomers this year and little continuity from last year especially in the backcourt, which means there will be some growing pains in the early going. Newcomers Julian Welch, Dre Hollins and Oto Osenieks all saw over 10 minutes of court time and it was obvious that they were playing in only their second game on the Gopher squad.
The game also showed shades of how important the inside game will be. Without someone like Blake Hoffarber on the perimeter to draw the attention of the defense, opposing teams are able to double and triple team Mbakwe and force other players to make plays. Minnesota hit 6 of 14 three-pointers but the team still lacks the go-to guy that you can count on to hit an open three-pointer. You’d like to see someone like Austin Hollins step up and be that guy, but at this point the majority of the offense will come through post presence and open mid-range jumpers.
Notes and observations:
- Mbakwe was the star of the show, which also means he was the star of the 2nd half, where he scored 13 of his 17 points. He also pulled down 10 rebounds and had a couple of thunderous blocks which were instrumental as Minnesota began to claim the momentum and overtake the second half.
- Joe Coleman saw surprisingly sparse playing time, seeing only seven minutes. After only 11 minutes in against Bucknell you have to wonder when and how he’ll be able to make an impact. As it stands right now he’s behind Chip Armelin, Welch and Ahanmisi on the guard depth chart.
- Mav Ahanmisi was the floor general of note in this one, leading the 2nd half charge and showing composure that we saw very little of last year. He also showed a nose for the basket and put up eight points in 13 minutes of PT. It’s scary to envision the Gophers with Ahanmisi as their starting PG, but after last night’s performance it not crazy to think he might see more opportunities to prove himself.
- I can already tell Oto Osenieks is going to be a fan favorite. He plays hard on defense and has a court presence that exudes confidence. He also has sneaky long-range accuracy and surprises teams who forget about him on the court. He has the chance to be a big weapon off the bench as the season progresses.