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No one really expected the contest between Minnesota and Mount St. Mary’s to be anything other than a formality. The Mount, a middling team from the Northeast Conference was merely expected to be a schedule filler and provide some practice for the Gophers to sharpen their team-building skills. After an ugly, turnover-ridden performance against Fairfield and a penchant for starting games slowly, a relatively easy game was just what the young Gophers needed in their quest to develop some familiarity with each other. Those predictions held true on Monday night as the Gophers ripped the Mountaineers 85-56 in their first 20-plus point victory since beating Purdue in 2010, and improved to 4-0 on the season.

The Gophers dominated in essentially every facet of the game and jumped out to an 11-0 lead right out of the gate. Considering they’d had trouble getting going in their first three games of the season, seeing the team come out firing and succeeding right away was refreshing. In fact, the first scoring play of the game was an Austin Hollins four-point play. Rodney Williams had a highlight-filled first half and had five ESPN-worthy dunks and 12 points in the first 20 minutes.

Outmatched from the outset, the Mount had trouble getting shots off all game,  much less putting points on the board. A stifling Gopher defense and full-court pressure forced 20 turnovers yet didn’t allow the Mountaineers to get to the free throw line. In fact, the Mount only attempted 16 free throws all game.

On the offensive side, the Gophers put up their best effort in many games and five players scored in double figures including Joe Coleman, who had the best game of his young career. Austin Hollins led the charge with a career-high 14 points and every player on the roster scored at least one point with the exception of Kendall Shell.

The game was a complete blowout so there isn’t much to report that isn’t evident from the score. The main takeaways from the game revolve around the crispness of the Gopher performance. The team played a complete game and didn’t commit the self-inflicted errors that have plagued them so far this season. Granted, the opponent wasn’t of high caliber, but seeing Minnesota cut down on turnovers, score efficiently, play extremely sound defense and work as a team was great to see, especially considering how easily it could have been to look past an opponent like Mount St. Mary’s and with a holiday tournament around the corner. The spread of the scoring was also a key takeaway as the offense did not revolve completely around Mbakwe, who only scored two first-half points. Other players showed they could handle the offensive duties and made a case to be important contributors down the road.

The Gophers must use the soft part of their non-conference season to work on gaining familiarity with each other since many of the players that are seeing major minutes are new to the squad. An ugly win against Fairfield did not do much to quell the fears of those who were skeptical about the lack of experience on the court. However, the fluidity of the victory over the Mount was a complete reversal of the sloppiness we’d seen so far this year and hopefully means good things are in store down the road.

Notes/Observations:

  • Ralph Sampson III sat out the game with a sore ankle, meaning Eliot Eliason received the start at center. Eliason scored four points and pulled down four rebounds, but only played 14 minutes after picking up four fouls.
  • Rodney Williams had several huge dunks in the first half, but was basically invisible in the second. For a short video of the first-half highlights, including Rodney’s dunks, check out the GopherAthletics channel on YouTube.
  • The team only committed eight turnovers – a complete reversal from the 23 they committed in the atrocious performance against Fairfield. Cutting down on the mental mistakes at least shows us that the Gophers aren’t completely lost as a team as the Fairfield game implied that they had lots of work to do.
The Gophers now head to the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla. where they will take on DePaul in the opening round of the holiday tournament.