A day after overcoming a 12-point deficit against the DePaul Blue Demons, the Gophers found themselves up against another deficit, this time to the Indiana State Sycamores and used a late second-half run keyed by Chip Armelin and Julian Welch to take back the lead and seal their second win in the Old Spice Classic 76-69.
Early turnovers were a problem for Minnesota, who committed 10 of their 15 in the first half, and were a big reason, again, that they found themselves down at halftime. However, like we’ve seen all season so far, the second half resulted in much cleaner, more-focused play, which helped execution on both ends of the ball. With limited production from Mbakwe, Sampson and Williams the younger players were forced to step up and carry the load, which they did, impressively. Armelin put up 13 off the bench while Dre Hollins scored 16 in only 19 minutes due to foul trouble. Welch led all scorers with 17 points and was arguably the player of the game.
Unlike the previous day’s contest against DePaul, the Gophers came out inspired and executed well against Indiana State for most of the first half. The Sycamores were content to let the Gophers shoot open three pointers and Minnesota, surprisingly, was converting on a number of them. However, quick ball movement and blistering three-point totals by ISU coupled with a disappearing act of the Gopher offense later in the half completely turned the tables and sent Minnesota to the locker room at halftime facing a seven-point deficit.
In fact, it appeared that the Gophers had absolutely no answer for the fundamentally-sound Sycamore offense until about eight minutes remaining in the second half. ISU guard Jake Odum was having his way on offense and the Sycamores used calculated passing to obtain open three-point attempts, which they converted en masse. But their luck soon started to run out and the law of averages, in terms of shooting percentages, took over. The Gophers went from running around in circles chasing their assignments to staying home, working around screens and contesting Indiana State’s shots. Less flow on offense for ISU resulted and gave the Gopher offense the opportunity to get the team back in the game.
Another game, another second-half awakening for the Gophers, who are making a habit out of slow starts and strong finishes – a reversal of what we came to expect last season, where leads were squandered and second-half collapses were the norm. The fact that the production is coming from people other than established veterans is also something to note, and shows that the team at least has enough depth to cover when Mbakwe is getting triple-teamed.
- Trevor Mbakwe had a relatively quiet game (9 points, 9 rebounds) and didn’t see the ball as much as a player of his talents should. Of course, when he DID get the ball a swarm of ISU players would surround him and essentially triple/quadruple teamed him. The Sycamores bet that the rest of the team couldn’t make up for his production and were proven wrong.
- The Gophers actually knocked down a fair amount of three-point shots and went 8-15 from long range – easily their best output of the season and made a string of free throws down the stretch to help seal the victory, something that we haven’t seen much of yet this season. Dre Hollins hit 4-5 from deep and looked quite confident putting it up.
- Ralph Sampson (knee) only played 11 minutes and didn’t look like he belonged on the court at all. Elliott Eliason covered for him, scoring five points and grabbing six boards in 12 minutes.
- I seriously can’t say enough about Julian Welch as the guy was the best player on the court in the second half. He seemed to be involved in almost every play, showed hustle on both ends of the court and was the rock the Gophers needed to start a comeback. He knows when to take the open shot and is surprisingly good at penetrating and seeing the court. He’s not a pure PG by any means, but may arguably be the best in the Gopher backcourt at this time.
- Mav Ahanmisi looked supremely awful in his few minutes of action. Whatever strides he seemed to be making earlier this season have vanished and I don’t expect his minutes to increase any time soon.
- Rodney Williams played 28 minutes but only scored three points (on a three-pointer, no less). A day after scoring 18, Williams had trouble getting anything going and was basically invisible the whole game. Fortunately for the Gophers, the rest of the team was able to pick up the slack and his production was not missed.
- Chip Armelin had his best game of the season and was a huge spark off the bench. Armelin is naturally a high-intensity player and when he’s playing under control he is a huge asset. He scored a season high 13 and also saw a season-high 20 minutes. As the lineup continues to take shape, Armelin is positioning himself as a guy who will see good minutes.