It wasn’t always pretty, but the Gophers got out to another quick start against an overmatched opponent, and cruised to their third straight blowout victory of the season with a 72-43 thrashing of the Tennessee State Tigers.

And it could have been a worse beating, but Gophers took it upon themselves to continue to work out the kinks in the early part of the season. 17 turnovers plagued the team who, had they not been playing a TSU team content on maintaining the blowout with mishaps of their own, struggled to maintain a smoothly-flowing offense. Let’s just be thankful that this one wasn’t available to the masses on television.

The numbers look great on paper and the peripherals certainly illustrate a well-fought game, but the in-person experience left something to be desired on the offensive side of the ball. Again, Minnesota got out to a strong start and barely looked back, but it was a combination of maintaining a large lead through intense defense and Tennessee State not able to capitalize on Gopher mistakes that led to the blowout.

The team struggled initially with the Tiger full-court press, something they haven’t seen much of this year, and an approach that forced more than a couple Minnesota turnovers early in the game. The Gophers also struggled, once again, against a half-court zone. Unlike the American game, however, this zone was a little more intense and forced Minnesota out of its comfort zone. Remember how lost they looked last year when their half-court offense wasn’t working? There were certainly shades of that tonight. It wasn’t as bad as, say, how they look against the 1-3-1 Northwestern zone, but there were a few of the “pass it around aimlessly until the shot clock winds down and then chuck up a three pointer” type of possessions. In the end, the Gopher defense wore the Tigers out to the point that they couldn’t keep up with the Minnesota transition game but, man, this half court offense needs some work. Fast.

And how about that Gopher defense? Really, through three games no team has stood a chance against Minnesota and that’s through their suffocating defense. Once again, the Gophers came out of the gates in a full court press and took the Tigers out their comfort zone right away – forcing seven turnovers in the first eight minutes while jumping out to an 18-6 lead. It was pretty much over from there. TSU couldn’t muster much of an offense, and the Gophers took away nearly all of their clean looks. The Tigers shot a pitiful 24% from the field for the game and turned the ball over 20 times. A whopping 13 of the turnovers came from steals, to boot, which led to a fair amount of Minnesota points off turnovers.

So far this season the Gophers defense has been their calling card. The offense hasn’t been particularly pretty the last two games but, like last year, the defense always gives the team a chance to win. That is a tremendous asset when things aren’t always falling the offense’s way, and it provides a solid foundation and pathway to victory when the other team has a difficult time getting anything going. The defense has been so good so far, in fact, that they’ve limited their three opponents to a combined 27% shooting from the field. That is an impressive stat.

Notes and thoughts:

  • Rodney Williams again was the backbone of the team. He scored a team-high 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and brought the lackluster crowd to life with three second half dunks — all with three stitches on his face to close an elbow-related wound. Through three games Rodney is averaging 14 ppg and is shooting 80% from the field.
  • We didn’t see a whole lot of Trevor Mbakwe, who ran into foul trouble after arguing a player control foul and getting T’d up to boot. That basically sent him to the bench for the rest of the game midway through the second half. When he did play, he looked another step quicker and more confident in his knee. The journey continues.
  • The free throw struggles continue for the Gophers, who managed a measly 61% from the line. Even Andre Hollins can’t seem to find success at the line, and has almost missed as many free throws this year (7) as he did all of last year (9).
  • Mr. End of the Bench, Kendal Shell, scored the first points of this career late in the game on a layup.

4 thoughts on “It’s Rodney’s paint; Tennessee State is just living in it

  1. Rodney had some very nice dunks late in the game, but it was pretty much over at that point.

    This is a good basketball team when Dre and Austin are on the floor. I’d call them the backbone. They get in passing lanes, apply full court pressure and make the offense more dynamic. Austin’s arms are almost single handedly the “suffocating defense.”

    Take the stretch when Rodney went out with the cut over his eye. The second unit had been on the floor, leading to their typical sluggish offense. But with Dre and Austin out there, it didn’t matter much that Ingram was in for Rodney. The pressure defense picked up, leading to better transition play and better offensive flow. We’re really deep on front court talent, but it’s the guards that make it go.

    As for Trevor, I don’t think the technical was for arguing. He shoved Tennessee State player in the post-play scrum, and the Tennessee State guy shoved back, thus the offsetting technicals.

    • All very good points. The reason I call Rodney the backbone is because of his consistency through the first three games. Austin has been the spark, no question, and he’s helped the team to early double-digit leads in each game, but he’s also found himself on the bench in each game for extended stretches. He’s been very good on the press, too, but don’t discount Rodney’s presence down low on defense. It’s hard to quantify, but he’s been a big reason that no team has gotten a whiff of an inside game so far. He took Robert Covington (a projected first-round NBA pick) completely out of the game last night, and he has six steals of his own the last two games.

      I’m a huge fan of Austin, though, and I’ve argued that he’s the most important piece of the puzzle this year if the team wants to go far. Right now I’m just glad that we’re arguing about who’s been better.

      And you’re right about the guards making things go. The second line with Maverick running things is painful.

  2. So far, it’s looking like it will be a fun year, although.

    This morning I’ve been pondering if Austin Hollins might be the most underrated player in the B1G.

  3. Richmond had a down year last year, but it should be a better indicator of where the team stands. I think the NIT last year gave Rodney the mental toughness he lacked. Thats what the team has been missing since .. Bobby Jackson? Mbakwe is obviously tough but if he gets overly enthusiastic it leads to fouls.

    It works out really well that they draw Duke. If you look at Michigan States philosophy, its that early in the season the difference between elite teams is pretty thin and if you can win a big game or two your teams mentality will be “We can play” as opposed to playing teams that are not even close where, as you’ve mentioned about every game, the team doesnt even have to employ full effort. It would be nice to get to the big ten knowing that they have competed with top programs. The nice thing about the young guards is, they have heart and they get up for the big games. Last year Rodney began to feed off that and believe too.

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