The Gophers men's basketball team showed more than a few flaws Friday night at Williams Arena.
But ready or not, here the regular season comes.
On a night when the university announced promising freshman guard Kevin Dorsey would sit because of a suspension for "failing to meet his academic obligations," the available players at times looked absent as well. They were lazy on the boards, missed defensive assignments and failed to harness the necessary energy to hold off a Division II team for much of the game. Eventually, the Gophers managed to string together a second-half run to prevail over Southwest Minnesota State 81-64 in their final exhibition tuneup at Williams Arena before the season opens next week.
"It will be good for us," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said of the struggles. "You don't want to get obliterated on the glass but we know that's a weakness of ours that we've got to get better at."
That's plenty clear.
The Gophers — who were also missing 6-11 sophomore center Bakary Konate while he rehabs an injured foot — were outmuscled and outhustled at times by Southwest Minnesota State, a team projected to finish in the middle of the pack in the 16-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
The Mustangs outrebounded the Gophers 41-28, including 19-4 on the offensive end, but the Gophers managed to overcome their deficiencies on the boards with a 23-point performance from Carlos Morris and 32 trips to the foul line, making 25 of those (78.1 percent). The Mustangs took only five free-throw attempts.
Southwest Minnesota State trailed only 47-43 with a little more than 16 minutes left in the second half before the Gophers finally took control, launching an 18-4 run to secure their grip on the Mustangs.
Joey King had 17 points for the Gophers, but the senior forward grabbed only one rebound. Nate Mason added 14 points, and the 6-1 sophomore guard was the only Gopher to snatch more than four rebounds — he had seven.
"We're blocking out, but we're just losing a lot of those loose balls on long rebounds," King said. "Under the basket, we're fighting — we're scratching and clawing for the boards, but we've just got to work on rebounding out of our area and chasing them down."
King hit four three-pointers in the first 5 minutes, 18 seconds, but that energy wasn't contagious, at least at first. Coming on the heels of a first exhibition in which the Gophers allowed Minnesota Crookston to hang around in the first half, they had the same sluggish start Friday.
Afterward, Pitino said he had been worried about the matchup against Mustangs offense coming in. Given some of the Gophers' struggles, such concern was warranted. Still, with Missouri-Kansas City awaiting in next Friday's opener — Pitino said he anticipates Dorsey playing if he has "a good week" — the coach embraced growth where he saw it, a message that was amplified with Big Ten rival Iowa falling in its own exhibition minutes earlier, against another NSIC team: Augustana, the top-ranked team in the D-II polls.
"I was really encouraged with tonight," Pitino said. "Last game we couldn't hit a free throw, today we did it. So that's why you play exhibition games."