It seems there's a new trend emerging for the Gophers men's basketball team: when it looks to start something, it looks to Joe Coleman.
For the second consecutive exhibition game, the sophomore snatched the role of go-to scorer, powering a sometimes sloppy but energized Gophers team to a 86-59 victory over Southwest Baptist on Monday.
When their lead diminished to three points in the first half, the Gophers were in need of a momentum turnaround. Enter Coleman, who dunked to get the Williams Arena crowd of 8,654 excited, then scooped up a turnover and slickly passed to Austin Hollins for a layup.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence, and we're going to need that going forward," senior Trevor Mbakwe said of Coleman, who finished with 15 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. "That's how he was in high school, and that's what we expected from him. We're going to need that scoring from him and that aggressiveness."
In the end, it was a blowout. But Coleman's aggressiveness seemed to play a role in the Gophers' intensity throughout -- even as their 17 turnovers caused frustration early and even as their lead grew late.
Perhaps, too, it was because they had seen the danger that could be done by opponents from the three-point line.
Monday, the Bearcats shot from long range at will, making 10 threes in 36 attempts.
The Gophers went 2-for-13 from behind the perimeter, scoring the bulk of their points from inside the paint -- just as they did against Minnesota State Mankato on Thursday.
Coleman, who also had two turnovers, said he has worked on his midrange game from last year, but so far he has used his athleticism to get to the basket, and has stuck with that.
"I'm not going to force an issue that doesn't need to be forced," he said.
A year ago, Coleman's role was hazy at best. With Austin Hollins at shooting guard and Rodney Williams at small forward, the freshman wasn't expected to get much playing time early on, and he didn't.
Last January, after the starting lineup failed to consistently produce, Coleman was inserted into the first five. He started for nine consecutive games, and then in late February was given the spot for good.
"I still had some up and downs still at the end of the season," Coleman said. "But it definitely began there and I felt more comfortable."
It showed once again Monday, and while the Gophers enter the season unsure of how the lineup would look to start, it seems clear that for now, Coleman has a sure place in it.
"He's a kid that's committed -- not that the rest of them aren't -- but he really, really puts in the energy and the effort and the time," coach Tubby Smith said.Note
Mbakwe took down a handful of tweets from his Twitter account on Monday in which he vowed to return his scholarship for the season if the Gophers failed to make the NCAA tournament. The tweets were originally posted early Sunday morning.