It wasn’t the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but on snowy night at Williams Arena in mid-March, postseason basketball was on full display. In front of a sparse home crowd that was either missing because of weather, spring break or general lack of interest, the Gophers leveraged a career night from Maverick Ahanmisi and big games from Mo Walker and Joey King to stave off the High Point Panthers 88-81 and move into the second round of the NIT.
The NIT isn’t an altogether unfamiliar place for the Gophers, who have been in everyone’s favorite secondary postseason tournament seven times since the turn of the century. In fact, the last time they found themselves in the tournament, they almost ran the table to take home the coveted crown. After just missing the NCAA Tournament this year as a potential at-large team, it was unclear if the Gophers would actually show up and pretend like they wanted to be there, even as a 1-seed. Instead, Ahanmisi blew his career high out of the water, scoring 21 points off the bench, while Walker, King and Andre Hollins each scored in double figures as the Gophers put up 88 points on 49% shooting.
High Point was never really a contender in the game, even though they did push the Gophers at times. But overall Minnesota’s size and strength down low was just too much, which eventually just wore the Panthers down. The turning point may have been midway through the second half, with High Point trying desperately to mount a comeback. But with an intentional foul and technical foul called on the same play, the Gophers scored six straight points to up their lead to double digits, which proved to be insurmountable.
Minnesota had great looks all game, but had trouble executing in the first half, which left the door open for High Point. An athletic team, the Panthers used quick ball movement to get behind the Gopher defense and stay in the game early. In fact, the Minnesota defense left plenty to be desired, once again, allowing the Panthers to get plenty of sweet looks and hit 12-26 from deep. Minnesota, though, played largely mistake-free basketball, which allowed them to weather the storm. With only six turnovers and shooting a cool 30-36 from the line, the team did a great job of not shooting itself in the foot.
Now, Minnesota moves on to face the winner of Utah and St. Mary’s, who will venture to the Barn on Sunday, March 24. Time TBD
- Dre Mathieu left the game due to a “lower body injury” and only saw 13 minutes. He’s saying he’ll be ready to go by Sunday, but no official announcement has been made.
- The Gophers managed a paid attendance of 3,493, which is slightly lower than their last home NIT game against Maryland in 2008.
- Malik Smith managed only 6 minutes and didn’t attempt a shot. It’s amazing how far he’s fallen since the beginning of the season when he was looking like the 6th man of the year.
- It’s well documented, but Mo Walker has officially eclipsed Elliott Eliason as the big man of choice for the Gophers. While Eliason starts, Walker is now a much more effective player overall, which is reflected in his minutes. It’s a shame, too, since Eliason had a great streak to start the B1G season and looked like one of the more dangerous big men in the conference.