It’s amazing what four days can do to a Big Ten program. Little more than 96 hours ago the Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball team had been left for dead by much of its fan base as well as the local media. Going 0-4 to begin conference play does little to inspire confidence in a team, and frustration was boiling over on all fronts. Bad home losses to Iowa and Purdue further intensified negative feelings toward the team that had regressed badly since a 12-1 start to the season.
But a win over the mighty Hoosiers in always-tough Assembly Hall brought much-needed hope and showed that when the team does things right it can beat a really, really good team. Still, it was hard to know whether or not the win was a fluke or a sign that the team had found its footing and was ready to take the season back on the road to success. After Sunday’s win at Penn State the Gophers can now say they’ve won two straight conference games for the first time since late January 2011 as well as two straight road conference games for the first time in many, many years.
The game against Penn State was important for many reasons. The Gophers needed to show that they could get the job done against an inferior team on the road and also prove that they could avoid a letdown after one of the biggest wins in recent memory. Many teams fall victim to letting down after big wins and facing lesser competition. Having started 0-4, the Gophers could not afford to take a step back after such a massive step forward.
Suffice to say, Minnesota did not let down. In fact, they stepped up, and the starting lineup scored 68 of the team’s 80 points in an 80-66 victory over the Nittany Lions. Joe Coleman was the story of the game, leading all scorers with 23 points in a game-high 36 minutes. Coleman didn’t attempt a three pointer and did much of his scoring near the basket and at the free throw line. The new starting lineup of Rodney Williams, Coleman, Julian Welch, Austin Hollins and Ralph Sampson worked for the second consecutive game as Williams, Hollins and Welch joined Coleman in double figures. The team shot an impressive 55% from the field.
But back to Coleman who, as a freshman, is proving himself to be the most dangerous scoring option the Gophers have. One of the few natural scorers on the roster at this point, Coleman showed an impressive nose for the basket and ability to get to the free throw line – something that many of the other players have failed to do on a consistent basis. When Coleman has the ball he is a threat to score every time and is able to create his own shot and get near the hoop. As we know, good things happen when players attack the basket, but Minnesota has had trouble doing that so far this season, mainly due to the lack of a scoring threat.
For the third consecutive game, though, Tubby Smith gave Coleman the keys and let him do his thing – giving the freshman extended minutes and a place in the starting lineup. So far he has not disappointed with the increased responsibilities, scoring in droves, grabbing rebounds and, overall, playing much bigger than he actually is. With his success has come greater team success as well, as evidenced by the back to back road wins.
The Gophers now find themselves in a interesting position and are back in the thick of things for a postseason berth. What went from a possible lost season now has the Gophers invigorated and on the cusp of a going on a run that can save the season and put them in position for a shot at the NCAA Tournament. And all of this has happened in four days.
- The Gophers got to the line 44 times and hit 33 free throws. That’s a lot of free points.
- Elliott Eliason played a solid game, scoring four points and pulling down six rebounds in 20 minutes of play.
- Minnesota gave up 15 offensive rebounds to Penn State and only grabbed three of their own misses. Even though they shot at a fairly impressive clip, the ratio is slightly disturbing.