It was exciting, if not pretty. It was both difficult and pleasing for fans to watch. In the end, the Gophers erased a double-digit second-half deficit and hung on to defeat DePaul 86-85 in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic on Thursday in Orlando. A few quick thoughts as I wait for post-game interviews:
*Rodney Williams was a beast. I had him down for four dunks. Most importantly, a couple of them were ferocious throw-downs in the flow of the offense. Williams also had the key put-back of a Julian Welch missed free throw that provided Minnesota with a very important cushion at 86-83 in the closing seconds. DePaul made a meaningless two-pointer after a missed three with under a second left to provide the final margin. Williams finished with 18 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in 29 minutes.
*The crunch time lineup reflected who was playing best throughout the second half: Chip Armelin, Austin Hollins, Julian Welch, Trevor Mbakwe and Williams. Armelin had six big points; Welch had 11 points in 21 minutes after starter Andre Hollins sat out much of the game because of foul trouble/ineffectiveness (1-for-5 shooting, 3 fouls in 10 minutes); Mbakwe was his usual self with 16 points and 12 rebounds; Austin Hollins continued his recent steadiness by contributing 11 points in 26 minutes.
*DePaul made just 1 of 9 three pointers in the second half after going 5-for-10 in the first half. But DePaul did shoot 51.6 percent from the field from the game. That will concern Tubby Smith, as will the Gophers' 17 for 27 (63 percent) performance from the free throw line. Minnesota also had 17 turnovers in the game, though jus six after the break.
*Minnesota will face Indiana State at 11 a.m. (Minnesota time) on ESPN in Friday's semifinals.