To say the first seven minutes of Minnesota’s 2nd round NIT tilt against the St. Mary’s Gaels was ugly would be a huge understatement. “Atrocious” is probably about halfway there, and so is “hideous.” Is there even a word for racking up six turnovers and spotting your opponent a 14-0 lead before even coming close to scoring?
Indeed, the Gophers gave the Gaels a two-touchdown lead to begin the game, looking like they couldn’t (or didn’t want to) score. Committing interesting turnovers, putting up shots that barely grazed the rim and letting St. Mary’s run roughshod through their defense, the Gophers looked like they’d rather be anywhere else other than Williams Arena. Hard to blame them, with the Big Dance airing on TVs around the arena and the rest of the student body living it up during Spring Break in South Padre Island.
Rather than call it a season, though, the Gophers found their footing and clawed their way back into the game. It helped that St. Mary’s basically forgot how to play offense, but a hot night from Joey King (18 points) and an impressive defensive performance from Elliott Eliason (7 blocks) put the Gophers back on track and trailing by only 4 points at halftime. Hot shooting continued into second half and Minnesota continued to disrupt the Gael offense to methodically stretch its lead before putting the finishing touches on a 63-55 victory.
Drizzy Mathieu recovered from early turnover problems to score 14 points, while Maverick Ahanmisi, once again, provided a solid effort off the bench. And for the first time in what feels like forever, Elliott Eliason actually outplayed Mo Walker, who only saw 12 minutes off the bench. Eliason scored only two points on two free throws, but was a maniac on defense, adding eight rebounds to his impressive block total.
The victory was the second in a row for the Gophers, who were playing their second straight home game in the NIT. With Southern Mississippi taking down Missouri, the Golden Eagles now travel to Williams Arena on Tuesday to take on the Gophers in the quarterfinals. The winner heads to New York for the NIT FINAL FOUR.
The game against USM actually offers a couple fun story lines. For starters, former Gopher Chip Armelin now resides with the Golden Eagles, playing mostly a reserve role. Armelin hasn’t exactly blossomed at USM, but still gets about 15 minutes a game while scoring a handful of points. Still erratic, Armelin might have a chip on his shoulder coming back to Williams Arena.
The other story line is former Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall now heads up USM. Why is that important? He’s the guy who didn’t give Dre Mathieu a scholarship after his freshman year, which led to him having to go the JUCO route. You can be sure that Drizzy will be out to show Tyndall exactly what he missed out on.
- Andre Hollins, short of a timely three pointer late in the game, was basically invisible. In only 22 minutes the junior guard went 1-7 from the field (all three pointers), got into early foul trouble and turned the ball over a couple times before fouling out midway through the second half. His five points marks the lowest total he’s had all season and he’s now scored in single digits in three of his last four games. It’s hard to blame his woes on his bum ankle, which is almost assuredly healed, but something certainly seems amiss.
- After back-to-back games of minimal playing time, Malik Smith’s season finally bottomed out as the senior guard received a DNP for the first time all season. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s sad to see how far he’s fallen since exploding onto the season early in the season. Kind of a bummer to see a senior regress in his final season.
- Joe Coleman was in the building as he joined his teammates on the bench. Coleman is sitting out the year as he completes the transfer process to St. Mary’s.
- Holy Joey King. His 18 points is the most he’s scored since the first game of the season and he’s now scored 14 or more points in three straight games. The dude’s completely on fire. Think about the fact that King and Mav Ahanmisi are leading the team in postseason scoring. Frightening.