It was a game the Gophers definitely needed after getting a full dose reality at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils the day before. Not just because beating Memphis would prevent them from dropping two in a row and souring their international exposition, but because Minnesota desperately needed to show their fans, the nation and, most importantly, themselves that they were capable of beating a top tier opponent. 41 points later, Andre Hollins and the rest of team showed that they are indeed ready to compete this year with top-quality opponents.
The Gophers weaknesses were exposed by Duke on Thursday as the Blue Devils rained three pointers on the Gophers and capitalized off turnovers. Memphis, however, presented a much different kind of opponent that played right into Minnesota’s strengths. They couldn’t really shoot the three, they were prone to turnovers and they fouled a lot. Just the kind of team the Gophers wanted and needed to play after the Duke thrashing.
Andre Hollins, of course, was the star of the show, scoring 41 points (career high) and single-handedly keeping the Gophers in the game (and in the lead) in the first half. Minnesota also harassed the Tigers down low, preventing Memphis from ever really developing consistency on offense. You gotta wonder just how much of a factor the Memphis roots played in Hollins’ mind today. Of course, he’s from Memphis and grew up playing with a lot of the players on the other side of the ball today. Being able to stick it his hometown must have felt real good.
All numbers and performances aside, I am really, really excited about this win. In fact, this is probably the most excited I’ve been about a Gophers win in the last couple of years. Why? This is supposed to be their year. The pieces are in place, the players are healthy, in town and not in jail. All they need is execution. The Gophers have had expectations before and, even though they haven’t been baseless, they always were a little steep. This year they are underrated, which is a good thing since they can sneak up on teams and feel like they have something to prove. The win over Memphis shows that they are capable of meeting the expectations we have for them this year and beating good teams.
Last year in particular Minnesota was in position to beat good teams on several occasions. They even had many late leads that they ended up blowing in frustrating fashion. In fact, today’s game against Memphis is exactly the type of game they would have blown last year – breaking down offensively in the game’s final minutes and playing tentatively. They met the same adversity down the stretch today as Memphis stormed back to take a late lead. It felt so similar to last season’s meltdowns that I almost couldn’t watch, because I knew exactly what would happen next. However, the Gophers bent, but didn’t break, shrugging off the Memphis surge and kicking them right in the teeth to close out the game in winning fashion. We knew this is exactly what the team was capable of, we just want to see it play out. Memphis is a good team that will be in the Top 25 all year. And the Gophers beat them legitimately – and looked good doing it. It’s a very exciting win.
Now, they’re not going to win every close game against each good team, but this is a very important step for the team. That is, showing that they can indeed hang around in crunch time and now blow it like they did so often last season.
Quick notes and thoughts:
- I could rave about Andre Hollins all day and how insane he played. Instead, I think the second game ball ought to go to Austin Hollins, who had three steals and a block in the game’s final four minutes, which helped the Gophers put their lead on ice. For the game he had seven points, six rebounds, five steals and only one turnover. A strong, all-around stat line, especially when his teammate is dropping 41 points on his own.
- Elliott Eliason is being exposed during this tournament. After getting destroyed by Mason Plumlee yesterday he was unable to handle the Memphis forwards in the follow-up game. He also failed to score on the offensive side of the ball and played only nine minutes in the game. And an ugly nine minutes they were. We’ll see how he fares as the season continues, but right now he’s a liability out there on both ends of the ball. The Gophers are better off using a combination of Mo Walker and Trevor Mbakwe at this point.
- Rodney Williams was once again a rock on consistency, quietly scoring 13 points, grabbing seven rebounds and swatting four blocks. More importantly, he was 5-5 from the free throw line, canning two very important attempts late in the game. The Gophers are getting exactly what they hoped for and needed from Williams so far this season.
- It didn’t seem quite as apparent today as in recent games, but the Gophers, once again, gave up the ball far too many times – 19 times to be exact. And only eight of those TOs were on account of Memphis steals. They really, really, really need to start cutting down on the bonehead mistakes that have plagued them so far this year. Memphis didn’t capitalize on them too badly, but 19 is still a stupidly-high number.
- 85% from the free throw line. Now we’re talkin’!