It wasn’t the prettiest victory of the season, but the Gophers once against overwhelmed an inferior team and chalked up another victory to defeat Coastal Carolina 82-72 and improve to 4-0 on the young season.
The Gophers entered the game expecting to take on one of the weaker opponents of their entire schedule, and early indications were the team would cruise to a victory. Instead, Minnesota engaged in a struggle for much of the game and never lead by more than 8 points before pulling away late. The Chanticleers reached the double bonus midway through the second half, and put Minnesota at line 24 times, where the Gophers converted 20 times. For a team that jacked up 28 three pointers and only hit 8 of them, having uncontested attempts at the free throw line was a welcome reprieve.
The Gophers, once again, deployed a full court press nearly the entire game, and forced Coastal Carolina into its fair share of turnovers. However, once in the half-court set, the Chanticleers looked adept at working the ball around and breaking down the Minnesota 2-3 zone. In fact, Minnesota looked to be on its heels for much of the game, and Coastal Carolina cut the lead down to 2 or 3 points several times during the game.
Now, I’m under the assumption that Coastal basically played the best game they could have played, considering the circumstances. Multiple times the team made some circus shots, and they shot an uncharacteristic 52 percent from the field, including almost 50 percent from deep. Granted, they took good shots and did a great job breaking down the Gopher zone, but my eye test says that this game is a blowout more often than not.
However, that does raise a couple red flags, but given that it’s early in the season I’m willing to give the team a pass and let it jell a little more. After all, it WAS a 10-point victory, they executed at the free throw line, and they shot decently from the field. But the defense was definitely suspect, and if a more capable team that didn’t turn the ball over 20 times had faced the Gophers last night it would have been a different story.
Offensively, Minnesota shined once again, and four of the five starters scored in double figures. Andre Hollins was the rock once again, and mostly carried the team to a halftime lead. Drizzy Mathieu and Oto Osenieks chipped in 17 and 13 points each, which was a career high for Osenieks. Mathieu harassed the Chanticleers all night, racking up 3 steals and getting in the way of passing lanes. On offense, he added 6 assists to round out an impressive night. Elliott Eliason just missed another double-double, racking up 8 points and 11 rebounds, while playing the part of the lone big guy on the team.
But the offense wasn’t without nits. Eliason had a clear size advantage over Coastal Carolina yet the inside game was virtually non-existent. Eliason only attempted 5 shots down low, converting two, and never really got anything going. In fact, the Gophers never really tried to go inside at all, instead relying on three-pointers and jumpers to carry the offense. With only a single big guy on the court with Walker suspended, it’s probably to be expected that the offense will make its mark far from the basket, but facing a smaller, less athletic opponent, I would have liked to see a little more action in the paint.
On to Wofford.
Notes and Thoughts:
- A scary head-to-head collision between Andre Hollins and Joey King briefly stopped play. King got the worst of it and had to leave the game, and it turns out he has a fractured jaw. Hollins appeared to come away unscathed, which is a blessing, but King is at least out for the Wofford game, which thins out an already short-staffed frontcourt.
- Mathieu continues to be a fun player to watch on the court. He fills up the stat sheet with points and assists, but he’s also a pest on defense. And he plays a few inches taller than he actually is, so it’s fun to see him battle guys for rebounds and muck up passes that try to go over the top.
- One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed from the Richard Pitino era that is a clear difference from Tubby Smith is the inbounds play. The way the current one is drawn up it’s almost impossible to not get it in within five seconds. And having seen years of Gopher squads pretty much unable to get an inbounds pass in, it’s definitely refreshing.
- Malik Smith is going to be a lot of fun this year, but there are also times where I know he’ll be downright frustrating. He’s not afraid to shoot and I love that confidence, but if the dude gets on a cold streak it might not be a pretty result. He looked to be fairly “on” last night, but I still can’t help but think about the Seinfeld “Chucker” bit with George Costanza playing Smith.
- Oto Osenieks continue to show terrific growth from last year. His shot is much more confident and he’s putting himself in more positions to contribute. I haven’t been shy about wanting more out of him, but so far he’s appeared to be a totally different player.
- In that same vein, it’s hard to imagine Maverick Ahanmisi getting any sort of extended playing time this year. He only played 3 minutes last night and was unspectacular; even committing one of his patented fall-downs with the ball. On a team full of guards, he may have even regressed from last year, which puts him far down the pecking order. And this was against Coastal Carolina.