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We’d read about it for days, feared the worst, hoped for the best and tried to close our eyes and pretend like it didn’t exist. No, it wasn’t the Pitino vs. Pitino narrative jammed down our throats by ESPN but, rather, Montrezl Harrell the monster, who bullied the Gophers all night and came even better than advertised in an 81-68 season opening win for Louisville in the Armed Forces Classic in Puerto Rico.

Minnesota had absolutely no answer for Harrell, considered to be one of the best players in the nation. And he lived up to the hype, scoring a career-high 28 points on 9-12 shooting, throwing down monstrous dunks and showing some range.

It didn’t help much that the Gophers couldn’t get out of their own way. The team committed a mind-boggling 32 fouls, 18 of which came in the first half, forcing Richard Pitino to sit many of his starters early in the first half and give guys like Bakary Konate, Josh Martin and even Charles Buggs some playing time. Meanwhile, the Cardinals went on a 15-2 run and never looked back.

Of course, it’s hard to win when your best players are on the bench, and it’s even harder to win when you have to rely on several players who were literally playing in their first college game. When this comes on a national stage against one of the best teams in the nation, well, that’s not really a recipe for success. Joey King, Mo Walker, Dre Mathieu and Carlos Morris all ran into foul trouble extremely early, which basically sealed the deal with 3/4 of the game remaining.

And the free throws. MY GOD THE FREE THROWS. The Gophers left 13 points on the floor, going just 20-33 from the line, which was just brutal. Considering the final deficit was 13 points, it stings even more since the points were there for the taking.  Of course, one of the misses came when a Coast Guard plane took off during the actual attempt, which doesn’t seem particularly fair to me. Oh well. Such is life on a military base.

Minnesota was also brutal from deep, going only 4-18 from long range. And they were good looks, too, for the most part.  [massages temples]

But it wasn’t ALL bad. Truthfully, I was having a difficult time finding any silver linings until early in the second half, but the Gophers actually played with Louisville pretty well in the second half, and even made somewhat of a run late in the game. Nate Mason was probably the biggest surprise, since we hadn’t seen much of him in the preseason. Forced into action early on when Mathieu ran into foul trouble, he took the PG reins and ran with them, showing some quick moves, great ballhandling skills and good court demeanor. Playing 20 minutes, he scored in double figures and actually got to the line a fair amount, even though he didn’t convert at a high clip.

Mo Walker also looked great when he was actually on the court. His footwork has improved from last year and he’s still good at creating space for himself down low. He looked foul-prone, though and still is weak with the ball in his hands.

Andre Hollins was the other bright spot, and it’s easy to forget just how consistently good he really is. We missed a lot of that last year because he was dealing with an ongoing injury, but now that he’s fully healthy it’s like night and day. He had a extremely quiet 22 points, didn’t get into foul trouble, and was the rock for the team in keeping the game from turning into a real blowout. Once everyone settles down on the team, he’ll be even better.

Overall, this game was essentially a barometer for where the Gophers are at and I’m not fretting about the loss in the least. They were extremely sloppy on defense early on and the roster shuffling really threw a wrench into things. But kinks like cheap fouls and converting on free throws have a way of working themselves out, and besides being decimated by Harrell, the Minnesota really wasn’t outmatched. Bad things happen when you’re forced to play freshmen early in the first half in the first game of the season, and that really broke up the flow early on. Heck, the Gophers came out firing with their first team, racking up a quick lead before the fouls kicked in. That said, if we drop the next game to Western Kentucky, then the tune might change.

Notes/Thoughts:

  • Elliott Eliason played 18 minutes, scored 4 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, but didn’t record a block. If this game was any indication, he’s been completely replaced by Walker and might have a hard time becoming a real contributor. His late-season regression from last year appears to have carried over, at least initially.
  • I’m sure he’ll be great someday, but that day is not today for Konate. The game is just moving way too fast for him at this point and he was a complete liability in his 6 minutes of action.
  • After looking like the best players on the court in the exhibition against UMD, Carlos Morris and Daquien McNeil were basically MIA in this one. The two combined for 10 points, 7 fouls and shot 3-14 in 40 combined minutes.

Some quotes:

Richard Pitino: “Josh Martin and Bakary just did not seem ready to play, and that hurt us a little bit.”

Mo Walker: “We gave them a lot of points on FTs (29-42) and on turnovers (18 points on 19 turnovers). We have a long way to go defensively.”

Richard Pitino: “It’s early, so you’re sloppy. It was hot. More than anything, we’ll look back, we’ll appreciate this experience.” #Gophers