With expectations lowered and the bar for success repositioned, the Gophers headed to Philadelphia to learn about our Founding Fathers, check out the set of It’s Always Sunny and take on the La Salle Explorers in the first round of the NIT. Turns out the team probably ought to take part in more meaningless postseason games as the Gophers played looser and had a better offensive flow than in several of the previous games leading up to the end of the regular season. Rodney Williams scored a career-high 21 points, Austin Hollins dropped 17 on 7-11 shooting and Andre Hollins continued his impressive string of games tallying 13 points and grabbing five rebounds.
The team also took care of business on the opposite end of the ball forcing 18 La Salle turnovers and holding the home team to only 24 second-half points. And though the Gophers only went 1-11 from deep, the team used it’s physical advantage to dominate the paint and get high-percentage shots, shooting 51% from the field.
While it’s easy to dig on the team playing in the NIT while Purdue yuks it up with its fancy 10 seed, it was actually nice to see the team come out firing and taking the game seriously. It would have been easy for the guys to pack it in, consider the season lost and a failure and throw in the towel against a La Salle team that had an incredibly excited fan base prepped and ready for the game. Instead, next year’s leaders like Williams and the Hollins Bros. (yes, I know they’re not related) showed that they are indeed willing to take advantage of the extra opportunities to play together and grow a tiny bit more before next season. The opportunity was even greater with Ralph Sampson sidelined and unable to clog up the court with his ineptitude.
Also credit to Tubby Smith for employing a lineup that will closely resemble what we’ll see next year. He basically played seven guys and didn’t waste valuable learning time by giving guys like Maverick Ahanmisi or Andre Ingram extended minutes. Instead, only six guys saw more than 20 minutes of court time. I firmly believe that now is the best time to give guys who will play a significant role next year time to play in games that have the air of importance but really don’t mean that much. Sure, it would be cute to hang another NIT banner in the Barn but I’m much more concerned about getting guys like Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman minutes against teams in some sort of postseason.
Also, the seeding in the NIT doesn’t seem to be as well thought out as those in the Big Dance, so even though the Gophers headed to Philly as six seed taking and took on the third-seeded Explorers, they came into the game expecting to win against a middling A-1o team. So it wasn’t like the Gophers “upset” the La Salle. The odds on the game were basically a push. The Gophers now head to Coral Gables where they’ll take on the Miami Hurricanes, who they certainly have a chance at beating. Four more wins until another banner!