Heading into a sizeable dearth of game activity in which they only play two games in two games in 20 days, the Gophers first made quick work of the North Dakota State Bison 70-57 in a sort-of-close-but-not-really victory at Williams Arena. Now finals week can commence and the players can focus on getting their schoolwork done … or something.

The Bison jumped out to a quick lead and it actually seemed like the Gophers might have a battle on their hands. However, between Rodney Williams’ season-high 19 points and Andre Hollins’ timely three-point shooting Minnesota pushed the lead out to double digits by halftime and really never looked back.

Oh yeah, and there was Trevor Mbakwe, who made just about the biggest statement imaginable after he was called out earlier in the week by a jackass CBS sportswriter for apparently not playing like his old self.

After Jeff Goodman’s hack-ish rant on Trevor Mbakwe, where he said it was “hard to watch” Mbakwe this year and that he had become a “below the rim” player, Trevor showed everyone exactly what he is capable of (and more), scoring 14 points and grabbing 18 rebounds (six offensive) in just 21 minutes of play. He also threw down two put-back dunks and was 5-6 from the field. How’s that for “hard to watch”? (Disclaimer: I think Goodman is a good writer, but his piece was hyperbolic and misinformed. Such is sportswriting.) In fact, it was vintage Trevor all night — he brought intensity and forced Marshall Bjorklund, the Bison big man, into foul trouble early in the second half with quick moves to the basket. Bjorklund had been giving Minnesota fits for the entire game before that.

The Gophers dominated the boards with their size and won the rebounding battle easily 38-23, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds in the process compared to just six for NDSU.

The Gophers now have 11 days off before their final non-conference game against Lafayette and then nine more days until their conference opener against Michigan State. Get ready folks!

Thoughts and notes:

  • Elliott Eliason got exposed by Bjorklund, who basically did what he wanted down low until Mbakwe got in the game. In fact, Eliason only played seven minutes to Mbakwe’s 21. It’ll be interesting to see how Eliason fares against Big Ten frontcourts. If he can’t handle the NDSU attack then he might be in trouble when conference play starts. Good to see Mbakwe playing up to his potential for this very reason.
  • Freshman Wally Ellenson got in the game in the final three minutes for his first action of the season, which means he has burned his redshirt. It was unclear whether or not he would redshirt before the season, but an early injury seemed to make the decision fairly easy. Not so fast. In the past couple of days it became apparent that Tubby was considering using him in game situations. The story is still coming together, but one thing is for certain – we’ll be seeing more of Wally throughout the year. The question is how much? My guess is it will come at the expense of Oto Osenieks, who has been downright awful this year.
  • Lots of non-descript performances from the whole team outside of Mbakwe, Hollins and Williams. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Julian Welch chipped in seven tough points including a timely three pointer and Mav Ahanmisi played a fairly effective 10 minutes. Joe Coleman and Austin Hollins had down games offensively, but the M.O. of this team this year has been to not rely on only one or two players. Their strength is their depth, so they can afford guys like Coleman and Au. Hollins to have down games. For the record the combined to shoot only 3-16, yet the Gophers still won by 13.

Oh yeah. Rodney did this:

And Trevor did this:

5 thoughts on “Mbakwe plays above the rim in NDSU victory

  1. Goodman failed to notice the trend with Mbakwe, though: that he’s been getting more and more meaningful playing time, which is naturally going to lead to better stats. I think Mbakwe has been playing a touch less ferociously than before, but he’s making up for it with smart moves, and that was on display in this game. He had a couple nice up-and-unders, drawing fouls and getting around Bjorklund.

    Anyone else think Mbakwe is going to start in Eliason’s place for the Michigan State game?

    • Mbakwe isn’t as ferocious as he was prior to his injury, which is fine. But to suggest that he’s “hard to watch” and a “below the rim” player is hyperbolic and ridiculous, which is why Goodman deserves so much taunting now and as long as Mbakwe keeps up his level of play.

      Eliason hasn’t done himself any favors this year and, frankly, he’s looked very suspect out there in his limited playing time. However, Tubby has said that he likes bringing Mbakwe off the bench to keep the talent level up when the reserves come in, and I tend to agree with him. I don’t think he’ll start over Eliason in the MSU game, but it might change soon after that.

      • If you are going to be an unathletic tall dude, the least you can do is be in good defensive position, block a few shots, and secure a few rebounds. Elliott was getting pushed around and out rebounded by other unathletic tall dudes and even unathletic short dudes. It was almost…sad to watch.

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