The Big Ten opener against Michigan was circled on the calendar for quite a while, as it represented the first time we’d see Richard Pitino’s Gophers against a legitimate conference opponent. Sure, we’d seen them against the likes of Syracuse, Arkansas and Florida State, but this was where we could see them in a situation where things really mattered against a good team. Unfortunately, it looks like Minnesota has some work to do in its quest to stack up against the best in the Big Ten as they fell to the Wolverines 63-60 in a game that went down to the wire, but also featured a severely depleted Michigan squad.
With Michigan missing preseason All-American Mitch McGary, the opportunity was ripe for Minnesota to sneak away with a victory over a good conference opponent. And when Glenn Robinson III, another of Michigan’s best players, went down with an injury early in the game, the Gophers were in even better position to pull off the victory, even grabbing a lead at halftime.
#Hollinsanity, though, was nowhere to be found, as the two veteran guards combined for only 14 points on 4-19 shooting, which ended up being the story of the game. For a duo that averages 30 points per game, that performance is hard to overcome. In fact, Austin Hollins finished with only 2 points on 1-9 shooting, including going 0-6 from deep. Malik Smith was a huge spark off the bench, with 12 points and three timely three pointers, and Elliott Eliason nabbed a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, even with foul trouble. But with the Hollinses dragging, the Gophers had too much to overcome, and the relative absence of their two highest scorers eventually sunk them.
The game is a huge missed opportunity for the Gophers, who had the chance to not only protect their home court, but also grab a win over a vulnerable team that will likely finish in the top half of the conference. Instead, the Gophers are backpedaling into two winnable games against Purdue and Penn State, where they should probably go 2-0 just to be safe.
- Malik Smith did not disappoint, and it’s having someone who can make huge shots such an asset in a comeback. He can score quickly and looks like someone you can trust with the open shot. Plus, he’s probably the best free throw shooter on the team. He’ll be instrumental in a game that goes down to the wire at least once this year.
- Drizzy Mathieu looked great for most of the game, but got a little ahead of himself down the stretch and made a true comeback pretty tough. He likes to play bigger than he is, but if this game was any indication it might be tough for him in the Big Ten to get to the hoop by taking it hard down the lane, as he was blocked pretty badly on more than one occasion. His intensity is great, but when he’s getting ahead of himself or turning the ball over it ends up being a wash.
- Surprisingly, the Gophers dominated the rebounding battle, grabbing 38 to Michigan’s 24 (including 15 offensive boards). But with shooting only 40% from the field didn’t allow the team to do much damage with their extra chances.