Well, we knew this time would come, when the Gophers stopped winning by 30 and we started to get a little glimpse of who this team really is when they’re playing good teams.
Richmond was that team tonight, coming in as a respected program and giving the Gophers some problems right away.
The Spiders got out to a 17-8 lead, and after the Gophers went on a solid first-half run and had a one-point advantage at the half, Richmond got on top again by seven with ten minutes left in the second half.
That’s when the Gophers took over, launching a 30-8 run to finish the game.
So does this mostly cause concern based on their early flaws or mostly inspire optimism based on their return?
You be the judge.
The Gophers echoed some of both sentiments after the game.
“We really needed that,” said Austin Hollins, who finished with 13 points and four rebounds. “We had blowouts our first three games and we didn’t need a blowout this game. We needed a game like this, where we faced some adversity, and we overcame.”
At the same time, with Duke right around the corner, there are still glaring areas that were at times greatly exposed on Sunday.
• The Gophers have a serious turnover problem. There’s no other way to say it than that. They tied a season-high with 19 tonight, which Richmond turned around for 25 points. Everyone on Minnesota’s roster had a turnover except Maverick Ahanmisi.
• Rebounding. The Gophers looked much better on the boards in the second half, but in the first, Minnesota struggled to match the pace of Richmond, whose length inside and quickness on the perimeter for long rebounds gave them the advantage early. Gophers finished with a 41-30 advantage, though, based on their strong second-half play.
• A lack of energy to start the game. The Gophers came out – as Trevor Mbakwe said it – flatter than they have all season, and perhaps overlooking Richmond a bit with all the hype geared toward the upcoming tournament at Atlantis. That was a trap the Gophers fell into last year, and it created a lot of scary finishes for Minnesota.
Reasons for optimism:
• Rodney Williams knows how to take over a game and be incredibly aggressive when he wants to be. He had stretches where he looked like that all the time, and for the most part, when the team needed him the greatest. He got the team and the crowd going with a stretch of play that included two layups and a dunk –followed by an excited scream and air-punch. It’s the version of Williams that the Gophers need. If we could see him play that way for 40 minutes, there’s no telling what he could do.
• Four players finished with double digits: Williams, Austin Hollins, Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman.
• Andre Hollins is starting to really come alive once more and look like the leader the Gophers need him to be. Sunday was his best game by far, as he scored 14 points and added seven assists, two blocks and three steals.
• Trevor Mbakwe played his most minutes from a single game yet, finishing with 27, and scoring 9 points with 12 rebounds in that time. Coach Tubby Smith said it was a matchup issue, considering Richmond’s big men, but it’s certainly an interesting development right before the Thanksgiving tournament.
• Shooting. The Gophers are markedly improving in that area. Several big 3-pointers helped provide spark for the Gophers tonight, including one from Andre Hollins to get Minnesota’s finishing run going. The Gophers made five of 10 attempts tonight and shot 56.5 percent from the field.