Sunday, December 5, 2010

Game Recap: Minnesota Escapes Cornell

Below, game recaps from Minnesota's 71-66 win over Cornell...

Box Score

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- Cornell put a scare into No. 13 Minnesota, leading for a long stretch and never trailing by more than six points, but the Golden Gophers gigantic edge in rebounding and free-throw attempts in a 71-66 loss at Williams Arena on Saturday evening. Minnesota improved to 7-1 with the victory, while the Big Red fell to 2-6 in its fifth-straight loss.

Errick Peck was sensational for the Big Red, registering 16 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Chris Wroblewski hit for 16 points and five assists on his 21st birthday. The Big Red connected on 12 3-pointers, including four by Andrew Ferry as part of a 14-point night. Sophomore Peter McMillan scored a career-high nine points and grabbed four rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench when the Big Red's entire frontcourt got in foul trouble.

Cornell was whistled for 32 fouls against a bigger Golden Gopher squad, which attempted 44 free throws to just 14 for the Big Red. Trevor Mbakwe led the Golden Gophers with 12 points and 16 rebounds without making a field goal, while Ralph Sampson III and Blake Hoffarber each notched 13. The home team outrebounded Cornell 48-33 and grabbed 19 offensive rebounds.

The game was nothing like Tuesday's loss at the Carrier Dome to No. 7 Syracuse that saw the home team control from the tip, as Cornell came out with energy, scored the first four points and led nearly the entire first half. Minnesota's bulk inside finally put the home team ahead 34-33 at the half.

The Big Red drained eight 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes, including two each by McMillan, Gray and Wroblewski, but it was an eventual late 7-0 Golden Gopher run to end the half that saw the Golden Gophers go ahead at the break. Minnesota dominated the backboards with 13 offensive boards to a 27-13 advantage at the break. Cornell lost the services of both starting center Mark Coury (two fouls), backup Josh Figini (three fouls) and Adam Wire (two fouls) to foul trouble to give an already shorthanded frontcourt a bigger disadvantage in the post.

The second half wasa back and forth affair, with Peck's free throws putting the visitors up 40-38 with 15:22 to play. Another jumper by the sophomore, this one off the glass, made it 45-41 Big Red with 12:24 to play, but Minnesota responded with a 9-0 run to turn that deficit into a 50-45 Golden Gophers lead. Ferry scored five quick points in the span of 17 seconds to knot the score, but consecutive baskets inside by Maurice Walker gave the home team back a lead it wouldn't reliquish. A pull-up 3-pointer by Wroblewski with 1L22 to play made it a 65-63 game, and after a pair of offensive rebound tip-outs, Ferry had a pair of looks to knot the game, but neither was able to fall. Free throws extended Minnesota's lead to eight late before McMillan hit the last of the Big Red's treys with 2.8 seconds remaining, but it was too little, too late.

Cornell will take the momentum of its effort into a two-week break for final exams before visiting Binghamton on Satuday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m.

Ithaca Journal/Associated Press
December 5, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS -- Trevor Mbakwe had 12 points, all from the free throw line, and 16 rebounds, and No. 15 Minnesota beat Cornell 71-66 Saturday night.

Blake Hoffarber added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists, helping the Gophers withstand another strong shooting night from an opponent.

Ralph Sampson III scored 13 points for Minnesota (7-1), which recovered from Monday's loss to Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the first home non-conference loss since Tubby Smith became coach in 2007.

Errick Peck scored 16 points for Cornell (2-6). Chris Wroblewski added 16 points for the Big Red, who lost their fifth straight game. Cornell made 14 of 33 3-pointers.

The Big Red hit five of its first 10 from outside the 3-point arc, allowing them to stay with the taller Gophers.

Minnesota was five of 16 from downtown, but the Gophers' size advantage eventually helped them pull away in the second half.

The Gophers shot 26 of 44 from the free-throw line, while Cornell finished 10 of 14.

That kept Minnesota in the game even though the Gophers went without a field goal for an 11-minute stretch in the second half.

Mbakwe went 12 of 20 from the free-throw line, helping to overcome 0-for-4 shooting.

The Pioneer Press

Blake Hoffarber knew something was wrong when he missed a free throw in the first half of the University of Minnesota's surprisingly close 71-66 win Saturday night over Cornell.

The Williams Arena crowd collectively cried, "AAAH!" when Hoffarber, an 85 percent free-throw shooter, missed the first of his two foul shots.

"Sometimes it can get contagious," Hoffarber, a senior guard, said after watching his teammates miss five straight free throws at one point in the first half.

The No. 15-ranked Gophers (7-1) shot 44 percent on free throws in the first half and 59 percent for the game but avoided following up Monday's loss to Virginia with another upset. Cornell (2-6), last year's Ivy League champion, hit 14 three-pointers but couldn't end a four-game losing streak.

The Gophers might be able to get away with wretched perimeter defense and free-throw shooting against a soft nonconference schedule.

But when the Big Ten season opens in less than a month with road games against Wisconsin and Michigan State, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said "it will be bad" if his team doesn't improve.

"It won't be easy," Smith said about trying to win close games against better competition without shooting better from the foul line. "But I like the idea of getting there. As long as we keep getting there, we'll figure out how to make them."

The Gophers entered Saturday's game tied with Michigan State for the worst free-throw shooting percentage (63.7) in the Big Ten.

The Spartans, though, don't rely as much on free throws as the Gophers, who shoot more free throws than any conference team.

Smith said the Gophers struggled just getting to the line in the past, and "now we're doing it."

The inside presence of junior Trevor Mbakwe is a big reason for that. But Mbakwe, who had 16 rebounds, was 12 for 20 from the free-throw line while missing all four of his field-goal attempts. He did, however, make 10 of 14 free throws in the second half.

"I don't think I had a guy get to the line 20 times like that, but he made them down the stretch," Smith said. "If Trevor made four more of those, then it's a little bit different. But we'll get that done. We'll see what we can do in that area. Obviously, we need to spend more time."

That Mbakwe is leading the team in free-throw attempts this season has skewed the team's percentage. Last season, Lawrence Westbrook, a senior guard, got to the foul line more than anyone else on the team and shot 84 percent. Mbakwe is shooting 59 percent after Saturday.

But he appeared to get more aggressive offensively as his team struggled to stop Cornell's outside shooting.

"He got their players in foul trouble," said Ralph Sampson III, who had 13 points and shot 3 for 7 from the free throw line. "He got his player and my player to play more reserved."

Minnesota's three-point shooting defense is an apparent weakness, especially without senior point guard Al Nolen, who missed a second straight game because of a foot injury.

The Gophers had hoped to rely on junior Devoe Joseph and sophomore Rodney Williams on the perimeter, but they weren't able to frustrate Cornell guards Drew Ferry and Chris Wroblewski, who combined to hit eight three-pointers. Williams also was called twice for fouls on three-point shots.

"I have an issue with that," Smith said about Williams, who had six points and three fouls in 22 minutes.

The Gophers have traditionally struggled to defend the perimeter under Smith, but free-throw shooting has become the bigger concern. Hoffarber, who had 13 points, said it's just about transferring what they do in practice to the game.

"Most of it's just mental," he said. "We've had our mechanics for a long time now. ... You just have to mentally prepare yourself before you get up to the line — know you're going to make it."

MVP: Trevor Mbakwe, Gophers

The junior forward scored 12 points, even though he missed his four field-goal attempts. The secret? He went 12-for-20 from the free-throw line, tying a 54-year-old team record for free-throw attempts in a game (Tony Jaros against Wisconsin, March 4, 1946). Mbakwe also grabbed 16 rebounds.


5 Double-doubles for Mbakwe this season.

2 Al Nolen missed his second consecutive game because of a foot injury.

15 Advantage in rebounds for the Gophers (48-33).

They kissed the rim. The ugly ones barely scraped it. And a handful of the Gophers' 18 missed free throws rolled around the cylinder like roulette balls before falling to the hardwood.

It's a gamble every time the 15th-ranked Gophers step to the charity stripe, proven by their 26-for-44 mark from the free-throw line in a 71-66 victory over Cornell on Saturday night at Williams Arena.

"Obviously, we have to spend more time shooting free throws," Tubby Smith said after the game, played in front of announced crowd of 12,633.

Those frustrating 15-footers could kill this Gophers team's dreams.

The stat sheet depicted a blowout, not the eventual five-point finish against a Cornell team that has lost five games in a row.

The Gophers (7-1) recorded a 48-33 rebounding margin. Three players -- Trevor Mbakwe (12), Ralph Sampson III (13) and Blake Hoffarber (13) -- finished in double figures. Cornell hit one field goal in the first seven minutes of the second half.

But botched free throws offset all the makings of a romp.

The Gophers led 34-33 at halftime, after they went 8-for-18 on free throws in the first half. Cornell (2-6) stayed in the game by exploiting the Gophers' Big Ten-worst three-point defense (38 percent through seven games). The Big Red hit 14 of their 33 attempts from beyond the arc, 64 percent of their offensive output, though it shot only 37 percent (6-for-16) after halftime.

The Gophers, however, failed to make enough free throws to pull away, even though they improved from to make 69 percent of their attempts (18-for-26) in the second.

Leading 57-55 with 6 minutes, 34 seconds to play, the Gophers missed six of their next 10 shots from the foul line.

Cornell was still within 65-63 with 1:22 to play. But Mbakwe, who tied a Gophers record with 20 free-throw attempts (he was 12-for-20) and also grabbed 16 rebounds, made his last four free throws and helped the team avoid back-to-back home nonconference losses.

Players and coaches seemed baffled by their ongoing problems at the free-throw line -- they were shooting 64 percent entering Saturday's game.

"In practice, we're hitting our free throws," said Hoffarber, who made three of his four free-throw attempts. "When one person, a couple people start missing, it starts getting contagious. Then other people start missing."

From the start of the season, Smith anointed his inside rotation as the key to his entire operation.

They proved him right, as the Gophers entered Saturday's matchup against Cornell as the Big Ten's second-ranked rebounding offense and top shot-blocking team. But Gophers bigs went a combined 18-for-34 from the free-throw line Saturday, with Sampson going 3-for-7 and Colton Iverson 3-for-6.

"We're an inside-oriented team, and we expect to get fouled," Smith said. "Our post players expect to get fouled and now they gotta step up and hit free throws."

The Gophers start the Big Ten season with matchups at Wisconsin, at Michigan State, home against Indiana and at Ohio State, a tough slate for any program.

If the Gophers fail to hit free throws in league play ...

"It'll be bad. It won't be easy," Smith said.

Saturday Final: Gopher Basketball Squeaks Past Cornell To Get Back On Track

Bleacher Report

After a letdown at the hands of Virginia earlier this week, Gopher basketball head coach Tubby Smith had to regroup his squad to ensure that the team didn't face the same fate on Saturday at the barn.

While the team didn't show the same brilliance that it did in wins against North Carolina and West Virginia during the Puerto Rico tip-off, their performance was just good enough to get a win over Cornell.

After allowing 10 three pointers during Wednesday's game against Virginia, Minnesota's perimeter defense faltered again, allowing 14 to drop from behind the arc against Cornell, four each by guards Andrew Ferry and Chris Wroblewski.

With the second consecutive letdown on the perimeter, the Gophers are anxiously awaiting the return of guard Al Nolen, who missed his second consecutive game with a foot injury.

What the Gophers lacked in perimeter defense, however, they made up for inside the paint. The Gophers big men dominated on the boards, out-rebounding Cornell 45 to 29.

Forward Trevor Mbakwe led the way with an impressive 16 rebounds. Senior Blake Hoffarber contributed 13 points and 5 rebounds in 33 minutes.

The size advantage proved to be extremely important down the stretch as Cornell mounted their comeback. The Gophers aggressive pursuit in the paint allowed them to get to the free throw line 44 times.

Even though they were only able to sink 26 of the shots from the line, it proved to be enough as the mounting fouls would prove to be too much for Cornell to overcome.

A fierce dunk from Ralph Sampson III with just seconds left would seal the game for the Gophers.

The Gophers are off until Wednesday when they will travel to Philadelphia to face the St. Joseph's University Hawks.

Gophers Slip Past Cornell

Daily Gopher

The Gophers pulled out a 71-66 win Saturday night over the Cornell Big Red. That's the good news. The bad? The Gophers again played no perimeter defense, had just occasional consistency on offense, and shot free throws at a 59 percent clip (26-44). It wasn't pretty. At all.

Tubby Smith has quite a bit to fix before the Gophers head to St. Joesph's next week for the team's first road contest. Minnesota certainly doesn't deserve a top 25 ranking the way this team has played its last two home games against less talented competition. First thing for Tubby to fix, Minnesota's defense.

The Gophers didn't give up 55 points in a half the way they did against Virginia, but for the second straight home game, the Gophers allowed an opponent to take pretty much whatever uncontested open three they wanted, whenever they wanted. There was one sequence in the first half where Cornell made a couple uncontested threes in a row. After the second or third make, an exasperated Devoe Joseph threw his hands up in the air with disgust, presumably wondering when Cornell was going to stop making open shots.

Minnesota's man-to-man ball-line defense was so bad at covering the three for the second game in a row, that Coach Smith switched for a few minutes to a 2-3 zone, which is a zone that obviously works to force more outside shots. Cornell finished shooting 42 percent from three.

So how did Minnesota squeak by? Credit Trevor Mbakwe for his 16 boards and 12 points, all on a 12-20 effort from the stripe. Not a great percentage, but Mbakwe's hustle on the glass allowed Minnesota to avert a second-straight loss at home.

Minnesota's best stretch against the Big Red came during the second half when every starter was on the bench. Led by freshman Chip Armelin, Austin Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi and Maurice Walker, the Gophers during that stretch finally displayed a want-to on both ends of the floor. Armelin specifically, in just 7 minutes of play, asserted himself.

Let's focus on the difference between Ahanmisi and Joseph. In 25 minutes, Joseph looked uncomfortable, scored 5 points, and added 2 assists, 2 turnovers and 2 rebounds. In 15 minutes, Ahanmisi had 2 points, 4 assists, 1 steal, 4 rebounds and 0 turnovers. Ahanmisi might never be the point guard that can score 20 points in a flash the way Joseph can, but right now, the Gophers are better served having a point guard on the floor like Ahanmisi who is playing within himself and running the team's offense. It's a small sample size of just two games, but Joseph so far doesn't look like the player that carried the Gophers during a Big Ten Tournament run a year ago.

The Gophers did much better against Cornell, as compared to the game against Virginia, to use our size advantage to hold down the glass. The Gophers had a 45-29 rebounding advantage that might have been the difference in the game. The Gophers were also better, though not as good as they can be, in running their offense from the inside-out. The Gophers were able to the Big Red's bigs into foul trouble by using our size and depth in the paint. But with such a significant inside advantage, I'm surprised the Gophers didn't force the ball down low more often.

There is no other way to describe the win over Cornell as anything but ugly. With Al Nolen reportedly out until at least the start of Big Ten play, the Gophers have to find a way, especially defensively. And Coach Smith just might think about playing some younger Gophers the minutes they are earning on the court -- specifically Ahanmisi and Armelin. Because if something doesn't change between now and the trip to Philadelphia to play St. Joes, the Gophers won't slip by again.

Gophers overcome free throw stuggles to beat Cornell

Tubby Smith was thrilled that the Minnesota men’s basketball team had 44 free-throw attempts on Saturday night because it meant the Gophers were feeding the post and playing aggressive.

He didn’t like that his team hit just 26 of those free throws, a percentage of just 59.1 that nearly doomed the 15-ranked Gophers against Cornell during a game in which they trailed for much of the first half before eventually winning 71-66 at Williams Arena.

“We’re an inside-oriented team, and we expect to get fouled,” Smith said. “Our post players have to expect to get fouled, and now they’ve got to step up and make free throws.”

“I like the idea of getting there, so as long as we can keep getting there, we’ll figure out how to make them.”

Junior forward Trevor Mbakwe finished with 12 points and 16 rebounds, but was at the forefront of the struggles from the line. He made only 12-of-20 attempts — his only points after going 0-for-4 from the field — but hit ones down the stretch that saved the Gophers from a second consecutive defeat.

Minnesota suffered its first loss of the season Monday against Virginia despite leading by as many as 13.

“We needed to get this win no matter what. No matter which way we got it we had to have this win,” Smith said. “I thought our guys showed a lot of grit, something we didn’t do against Virginia.”

The Big Red stayed in Saturday’s game with hot three-point shooting, hitting 14-of-33 from deep. Perimeter defense doomed the Gophers against the Cavaliers, and it’s a flaw that has been exploited since losing senior guard Al Nolen to a foot injury.

“We emphasized it in practice this week, but they were just getting open somehow,” said senior guard Blake Hoffarber, who finished with 13 points and four assists.

Minnesota’s size helped the Gophers avoid another letdown. Behind Mbakwe, they dominated the glass with a 48-33 edge and are now 7-0 this season when winning the rebounding battle. The Gophers also grabbed a season-high 19 offensive rebounds.

The spike in boards was due in part to the shooting struggles of both teams. Minnesota hit just 40.8 percent of their field goals and didn’t make a field goal for a stretch of nearly six minutes in the second half. Cornell shot only 35 percent for the game and made just seven two-point field goals.

Junior Ralph Sampson overcame a rough first half (1-for-6 shooting) to score 13 points while grabbing six rebounds. Sampson settled for multiple jumpers early in the game. Sampson said Mbakwe’s ability to get the Big Red in foul trouble helped defenders ease off him as the game wore on.

“I still think I have a long way to go until I’m back to the level I want to be at,” Sampson said. “I can’t put my finger on what’s causing it right now but it’s something that I’ll definitely take a look at.”

The Gophers also had a 28-19 edge in bench points, getting six points from Rodney Williams, Chip Armelin and Mo Walker. Armelin also registered an assist and a steal in just seven minutes.

“His only problem is that he’s backing up a guy like Blake Hoffarber,” Smith said of Armelin. “It’s hard to take Blake out of the game because he’s our most veteran and most savvy player.”

Minnesota has plenty to work on before a Wednesday matchup at St. Joseph’s (3-4 entering a game Sunday). The Gophers haven’t lost away from Williams Arena yet this season, and the Hawks have not exactly played well. St. Joseph’s opened the season with a 98-70 home loss to Western Kentucky, a team the Gophers beat in the first round of the San Juan Tip-off earlier this season.

Until then, they will work to prevent another “off night” at the free-throw line and improve a defense that will be beaten by good three-point shooting teams.

“We’ve just got to make sure our guys understand that you’ve got to go out and take threes away from them,” Smith said.

Box Score Box Score

Blake Hoffarber scored 13 and Trevor Mbakwe grabbed a career high 16 rebounds as No. 13/15 Minnesota edged Cornell 71-66 at Williams Arena on Saturday.

Minnesota (7-1) used a 26-10 advantage in scoring from the free throw line to narrowly escape Cornell (2-6). The Golden Gophers made 44 trips to the charity stripe as the Big Red were whistled for a game-lengthening 32 team fouls.

Ralph Sampson III shared scoring honors with Hoffarber for the Gophers with 13 points. Mbakwe scored all 12 of his points from the free throw line to capture his fifth double-double of the season. His 16 rebounds are also the most for a Gopher since 2006 when Zach Puchtel pulled down 16 boards against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament.

Chris Wrobleski and Errick Peck led Cornell with 16 points each.

The game was close throughout, with each team swapping leads in the second half before the Gophers were finally able to pull away in the closing minute after a Devoe Joseph jumper and free throws from Mbakwe. Cornell's 14 three pointers kept the Big Red close, but the Ivy League opponent was unable to overcome the free throw disparity.

Cornell took control of the game early with impressive outside shooting and held leads of 18-12 (11:21) and 29-23 (3:55) in the first half. Wroblewski led the Big Red with 8 first half points, as Cornell went 8-17 from three, scoring all but nine of their first half points from behind the arc.

Back to back three-point plays from Rodney Williams gave the Gophers their first lead since the first few minutes of the game, and put Minnesota up 34-33 at halftime. Despite Cornell's hot shooting, Minnesota was able to out rebound the Big Red 26-12 in the first 20 minutes. Hoffarber led the Gophers with 11 first half points.

After trailing 45-43 with 11:11 remaining, the Gophers went on 17-10 run to re-take the lead at 60-55 with 5:14 left. Cornell was then able to tie up the contest at 60-60 but a Sampson III lay up would put the Gophers ahead for good.

Minnesota ended up shooting 40 percent (20-49), while Cornell went 21-60 (35%) from the field.

The Gophers will next play at St. Joseph on Wed. Dec. 8 at 7 p.m ET.

Post Game Quotes

Minnesota Head Coach Tubby Smith

Opening statement:
“First, I just want to commend Cornell. They came in ready to play. They gave us all sorts of problems. Trying to guard the three has been a real challenge for us. They exposed something for us and we knew that Drew Ferry and Chris Wroblewski would be good, but Johnathon Gray came out of nowhere. I don’t think he played much at all. He wasn’t even on the scouting report…One of the things we’re having trouble with is guarding the three pointer, and post guys that are out on the perimeter, we need to do a better job. It is good to get the win. We needed to get this win no matter what. I thought our guys really showed a lot of grit, something we didn’t do against Virginia. I asked guys to make plays and they did.”

Blake Hoffarber

On Cornell:
“Anytime you’re playing a good three-point shooting team like them it’s going to be tough all night. They’re hitting their threes all night…have to give them their credit. They played very well tonight and had a tough battle against us.”

Cornell Head Coach Bill Courtney

On the three-point shooting:
“It’s something that is the strength of our team, and we haven’t shot the ball well. We’ll continue to take good ones and I think we did a good job of getting and taking open looks tonight.”

On the Gophers’ size:
“We fouled out all our big guys and they laid the ball in on us four or five times. They were just bigger and more athletic than us. We tried to battle but in the end we got in foul trouble and it just didn’t work for us tonight.”

On playing a top-25 team close on the road:
“For us it’s all about getting better, it did not necessarily show up this week because we played Syracuse and Minnesota, but we did get better this week. For us it’s about winning our league and I think we made some steps towards that today.”

#15/13 Minnesota (7-1, 0-0) 71, Cornell (2-6, 0-0)
Williams Arena
Minneapolis, Minn.
December 4, 2010
Attendance: 12,633 Team Notes Tubby Smith is now 70-40 as the head coach at Minnesota and 457-185 for his career.Minnesota is now 46-12 at Williams Arena with Smith on the bench.Minnesota led 36-35 at intermission and is now 60-6 when leading at the half under Smith.Minnesota is now 6-0 all-time against Cornell and 18-2-1 against Ivey League teams.Minnesota's lineup of Sampson III, Mbakwe, Hollins, Hoffarber and Ahanmisi started for the second consecutive game. The Gophers have used four different lineups this season.Minnesota attempted 44 free throws against Cornell, the most free throws attempted in the Tubby Smith era. The Minnesota team record is 54 attempts (vs. Marquette - 12/23/53). Individual Player Notes Blake Hoffarber finished the game with 13 points. He is now 34 points away from 1,000 for his career. Hoffarber has 44 career double-figures scoring games.Trevor Mbakwe finished with 12 points and 16 rebounds. It was his fifth double-double of the season.Mbakwe's 16 rebounds are a career high. The 16 rebounds are the most for a Gopher player since Zach Puchtel pulled down 15 against Michigan during the 2006 Big Ten Tournament.Mbakwe tied a team-record with 20 free throw attempts.Senior Blake Hoffarber tied for the Gopher lead with 13 points. He has led or tied for the team lead in scoring in five of the eight games.Hoffarber hit two treys against Cornell. He is the Gopher three-point leader with 226 career makes. Hoffarber is fourth all-time with a .413 (226-547) three-point FG percentage.

Well, that wasn’t how we wanted the Gophers to play, was it? With a slightly better defensive performance and a shaky at best offensive game, the Golden Gophers hung on to beat the Big Red 71-66.

It is easy to panic, get discouraged, or become confused about where this team has been and where it is going. However, as my wife wisely pointed out just after the final horn, all that matters in March is that this was a win, as odd and at times infuriating as it was.

The biggest concern entering Saturday’s game was Minnesota’s perimeter defense. Despite Cornell making 14-33 three-pointers (yes, they really did attempt 33 three-pointers) the Gophers did a much better job communicating and fighting through screens to get out to the three-point line. Cornell didn’t seem to mind though, and instead took a few steps back behind three-point line and knocked down shot after shot. The good folks at CBS Sports put together a shot chart after each game, and as you can clearly see, Cornell made plenty of shots they didn’t have much business attempting. At some point you just have to congratulate the other team. If they can stay in a game knocking down 25 footers, good for them. While the Big Red made 8-17 three-pointers in the first half, the Gophers held them to a more respectable 6-16 in the second half.

Free-throw shooting was the other major concern following the loss to Virginia, and yikes was it bad again, at least for a half. Minnesota kept Cornell in the game shooting 3-12 from the not so free-throw line, but managed to shoot 26-44 (yes, they attempted 44 free-throws) which isn’t entirely embarrassing. After that slow start, they actually shot 71% from the line.

In a lot of ways, Saturday’s game was just strange, and I am glad it is over. I would caution against looking too much into it. Cornell’s three-point shooting and the Gophers’ free-throw shooting was plenty anomalous, even for the Gophers that struggle to defend the three and can’t seem to concentrate when shooting free-throws.

If there is one big take-away from the Cornell game that we all may want to remember, it is that Tubby Smith trusts his freshmen, maybe even more than the starters. After another uninspiring three-quarters of a game by the more talented players on the roster, Tubby Smith pulled the starters in favor of Mo Walker, Colton Iverson, Chip Armelin, Austin Hollins, and Maverick Ahanmisi. They promptly led the Gophers on a 9-0 run, with Chip Armelin playing a significant role in 8 of those points.

The NCAA selection committee won’t care that the Gophers had only a five point win when they hand out tournament berths in a few months. A loss would have been disastrous, but this win was the 7th in 8 games, and hopefully a learning experience for everyone involved.

Who did what:

  • Austin Hollins took only one shot, but it was a big one, hitting a three-pointer when the Gophers were reeling in the first half. He continued to show that he is a smart player, above all else, with three assists, three steals, and no turnovers.
  • Trevor Mbakwe may have had the strangest double-double in NCAA history, with 12 points, 16 rebounds, and 0-4 field goal shooting. He was clearly frustrated with the hack-a-Trevor defense that Cornell employed. If he can shoot a little better than the 60% free-throw shooting that he managed against Cornell, teams will be forced to defend instead of foul.
  • Ralph Sampson bounced back after a rough game against Virginia with 13 points and 6 rebounds. He joined several Gophers with poor free-throw shooting making only 3-7. He finished off the game for the Gophers with an emphatic break-away dunk. It is always nice to see a big guy rewarded for the running the floor.
  • Blake Hoffarber had another solid floor game with 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists with only 1 turnover. His point total should have been much higher, with several misses on wide-open shots that would have proven to be momentum swinging moments.
  • Maverick Ahanmisi knows not to do too much. He needs to play solid defense, and get the ball to a teammate before he messes something up. That led to 2 points, 4 assists, 1 steal, and no turnovers.
Rodney Williams had the dunk of his Gopher career and had the best single minute of his Gopher career with back to back three-point plays.

Unfortunately, he didn’t impact the other 39 minutes of the game. Baby steps.
  • Colton Iverson didn’t do a whole lot, but was on the court during that crucial 9-0 run. He had 5 points and 4 rebounds.
  • Devoe Joseph continues to struggle since returning from his suspension, which is understandable since this is only his second game of the season. His defense was better, but his offense was worse, and he still can’t find a way to get the ball to teammates when they are in position to score. He had only two assists in 25 minutes (Hollins had his three in 18 minutes and Maverick’s 4 were in 15 minutes). He also made a pull-up three-pointer when Cornell forgot to guard him while he brought the ball up the court (come-on Ivy Leaguers, be smart) and made a 10 foot jumper from the side off an inbounds pass from the exact same spot that he missed the would-be game winner against Purdue last year.
  • Maurice Walker is making a case for more playing time. He provided a huge spark against Virginia, and did the same against Cornell. In only 11 minutes he had 6 points and three rebounds. He has shown that he has a soft touch around the rim, and is too big for anyone to defend properly. His conditioning may prevent him from playing more than short spurts, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more than one of those spurts each half.
  • Chip Armelin single-handedly righted the Gopher ship during the 9-0 Gopher run. He started things off with an athletic three-point play. Followed it up with a gorgeous assist to Maurice Walker for a lay-up, stole the ball the next time down the court, which eventually led to another Walker lay-in, and knocked in a three-pointer right after that. For those scoring at home, that was 6 points, a steal, and an assist in just over two minutes.


Anonymous said...

Well that's more like it.

Good things:

- Rebounding. Yes, rebounding. We actually seemed to sort out rebounding issues in the 2nd half after an abysmal 1st half. By my calculations, rebounding was 18-16 in the 2nd half. I don't want to think about the 1st half.

- Decent shooting. We SHOULD be shooting around 40% from 3. It's what other Ivies are already doing. THIS is normal; it is what came before this that was a fluke (i.e. shooting 8% from 3 in the first half against Cuse).

- Peter McMillan. Missed start of the season due to injury so we didn't know what to expect. Did good in his first real career minutes with 9 pts and 4 rebounds.

The bad
- Inside game. 7 of 27. Actually a little improved with Peck now "back" -- at least 4 of those misses turned into FTs for Peck -- but still an issue.

- Fouling. We got lucky in 1st half when they were missing everything, but in 2nd half they began making them all. Ivy teams shoot real well from the FT line; this can't continue. Don't blame it all on Minny's size either; we were already averaging >20 fouls a game heading into Minny. It is a huge problem.

With less fouling & w/ Osgood & Coury being as good as we know they can be, we can play any team in the country. Imagine Osgood of the first two games, Coury of the 60% FG% from pre-conf last year, combined with 40% shooting from 3. Any team in the country.

Anyway, it wouldn't even have been a game between most Ivies & a ranked team w/ big guys like this. We did good.

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered why McMillan didn't play more. It's easy to tell from warmups that the guy has a pure stroke.

Anonymous said...

I was worried that we had simply caught Minny on a bad FT% night but I looked up their FT numbers and they're like 60%, 61, 63%, even as low as 53% in one game. So this FT% was typical, which is good. It means they've been shooting badly all season and it didn't stop them from getting ranked or notching some impressive wins. What's less evident is the effect of Nolen's injury.

Nevertheless I am optimistic about the game. We improved in key areas, shooting & rebounding. If we had shot like 50% from the arc or if Minny was a 75% FT team that we caught on a bad night, I would actually have been less happy.

Anonymous said...

I am also positive about the Minnesota game. Despite all the critical comments during the game we only lost by 5 to the #15 team in the country and we won't play a team with that size again until the post season.

McMillan played well- he may be the best ballhandler/passer amongst all the forwards and he boxed out very well all game. I just don't know if he's big enough to play the 4- probably okay in Ivy play. I think Peck/McMillan can be great rebounders from the 3, but maybe not from the 4. Peck's last two games have been very encouraging- let's hope it continues. I still think Gray should get more time. I like his game a lot.

Fouling concerns me too. From a depth point of view we are fine, but you're right about Ivy play- it could kill us. If we can get Osgood and Figini to play with the toughness of Coury/Peck/McMillan we are a lot better than our record looks.