In a game where the Gophers were expected to roll quite easily, the Appalachian State Mountaineers instead hung around until very late in the game before falling short 70-56. In fact, Minnesota and Appy State were tied as late as 4:45 in the second half before the Gophers went on an 18-4 run to close out the game and improve to 9-1 on the season.
The closeness of the game was less due to the sloppiness or lack of focus by the Gophers (which is usually the case) but rather the head-scratching ability of the Mountaineers to hit three pointers at just the right time and grab a few key offensive rebounds. The Gophers committed only nine turnovers, 15 fouls and shot 54% from the field, so it certainly wasn’t for lack of execution that a blowout didn’t come to fruition sooner. But in the end the Gophers relied on execution, crisp passing and high-percentage shots to eventually outlast Appalachian State to secure the victory.
The biggest story, once again, was Rodney Williams, who racked up 18 points on an impressive 8-10 from the field. He also grabbed four offensive rebounds and swatted a career high five blocks. This wasn’t Rodney abusing a small, low-major lineup either. Appalachian State sported a fairly large lineup, including 6-10, 285 lb. Isaac Butts, and Rodney worked hard for his points. Once again, he was all over the inside of the offense and racked up his third straight double-digit scoring output since Mbakwe has been out. His comfort level at the four-spot continues to rise and it’s exciting to see him execute at such a high level.
Three other Gophers scored in double digits including Julian Welch (15), Joe Coleman (10 points in only 11 minutes) and Ralph Sampson, who started the game on the bench. Sampson picked up 19 minutes of playing time in his first game since sitting with an ankle injury and pulled down five rebounds in addition to his 10 points.
Elliott Eliason was basically invisible, which is troubling, and never really got into a groove having to go against Appalachian State’s huge center in Butts. Concerning is the fact that Eliason will certainly be going up against big, powerful centers during conference play, so putting up a goose egg in 21 minutes against lower-tier competition isn’t something to write home about. Still, it will be interesting to see how Eliason moves forward after a sub-par outing.
Appalachian State only shot 35% for the game from the field, though they hit 9-21 three-point attempts to keep the game close. Of course by now we all know that this is exactly how the Gopher defense works. They shut down the opponent’s offense inside the three-point line and force them to beat them from the outside. It can be frustrating at times, but Tubby is willing to bet (often correctly) that the odds of a team winning solely from its outside game is slim. With nine of its 18 made field goals coming from long range, the Mountaineers obviously chose to take a crack at winning from deep and failed.
The nine turnovers is also something to note, given the troubles Minnesota has had taking care of the ball, even against lower-tier teams. However, the number should be taken with a grain of salt considering the team committed a small number of TOs against Mount Saint Mary’s (another lower-tier opponent) before going on another turnover spree in the Old Spice Classic.
The Gophers next face Saint Peter’s on Saturday.