What a day this has been. First, the Reid Travis decision that did not go the Gophers way. Then, the Mo Walker suspension. Then, an odd situation with Wally Ellenson, who did not play at all (more on that below).
Finally, a Gophers win to start off the 2013-14 season, and Richard Pitino's tenure at Minnesota.
I can promise that after this blog is posted, a generous scotch will be poured for myself and my weary fingers.
But back to the night that was.
All in all, the Gophers played well, and with good energy, considering the circumstances. Mo Walker's six-game suspension for violating university policy -- he will return in the second game of the Maui Invitational -- is a huge hit for a team that already had an extremely thin frontcourt. It also comes at a time when Walker appeared to just be hitting his stride after recording 17 points and 13 rebounds in the last exhibition.
The Gophers weathered the frontcourt storm tonight, ultimately out-rebounding Lehigh, 38-35 and winning 81-62. Elliott Eliason had the first double-double of his Gophers career with 11 points and 17 rebounds in a very impressive performance. Joey King started his career as a Gopher with a 20-point game. Otherwise Minnesota did some good things, fouling just 15 times, getting 11 steals and playing lock-down defense. But it was Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks had just one player on their roster bigger than 6-8 and never posed much of a threat to the Gophers, despite four three-pointers from Mackey McKnight.
There are much bigger battles ahead.
The Gophers play Richmond on the road next week, which could prove to be the first big challenge. And Syracuse awaits in the first round on the Hawaii tour, which Walker will still be out for.
"Mo is a loss," Pitino said. "Every guy on the team is going to have to do a little bit to keep up. Oto is going to have to go from three to six rebounds and Andre Hollins is going to have to go from like two to five rebounds.But we support Mo, we love Mo. Can’t wait to get him back in Maui. He’s going to be a big help to our basketball team."
A few quick notes on tonight:
- Ellenson did not play tonight because of a disagreement with Pitino, according to Wally's father, John Ellenson. The younger Ellenson and Pitino are mutally working on the problem. Ellenson is expected to play on Tuesday. After the game, Pitino denied that there was a "verbal dispute" between the two and said that Ellenson not playing didn't mean anything. "Just because he didn't play tonight, doesn’t mean he’s not going to come back and play major minutes on Tuesday," Pitino said. "He’s working hard. He’s going to continue to improve. He’s a great kid, he’s doing a lot of the right things and he’s going to continue to get better."
- King had a great offensive game, certainly, but Pitino was even more impressive with the forward's zero fouls than he was with the 20 points because fouling too much is something King has struggled with in the past. "He thinks he’s playing football half the time. So to not foul was great." The one thing Pitino still wants him to improve? Rebounding. King had just one on Friday. "He blamed Elliott for stealing all his rebounds," Pitino said jokingly. "I don’t know if that was the case or not."
- Pitino said the decision to suspend Walker happened today after a meeting. Eliason, however, said it was something that was expected for the past few days.
- The Gophers showed a little 2-3 zone defense for the first time tonight -- we didn't see it at all in either exhibition -- and Minnesota was able to use it effectively for the most part. "The zone is a part of our game," Andre Hollins said. "We can’t press the entire game and we have to give the opponents a different look."
- The Gophers had 38 deflections. Pitino's goal is to get 40-plus a game. The Gophers lost the loose ball game, 8-4. Those are stats the Gophers keep on their own.