What a start to the Big Ten season.
As I’ve said, I thought Michigan State was a good matchup for the first game of the conference schedule because I believed the Gophers were capable of beating them, yet doing so would give them a wave of hype and confidence to take forward because of the reputation that the Spartans have.
Michigan State showed that strength on Monday, refusing to be put in the rearview and making a big comeback from the end of the first half through the start of the second, but Minnesota showed a sort of poise that mostly absent a year ago.
Down by five with 9:22 to go, the Gophers started a steady comeback. They led by 1 with three minutes remaining when Andre Hollins took over. The sophomore guard instigated a 12-0 finishing run that featured six points from him as well as an impressive play from Austin Hollins and Mbakwe, who snatched a steal, then started a three-pass back-and-forth break with Hollins, who slammed it home to put Minnesota up by seven.
“We just didn’t panic,” Andre Hollins said. “We knew it was going to be a close game … we knew we just had to keep our composure and focus on the little things and start executing.”
Wow. There were plenty of things to be impressed with in this game, not the least being the crowd of 14,625, which was probably the loudest I’ve ever heard there.
Some other notes on the 76-63 win over Michigan State:
- It’s hard to criticize the starting five at all, but Trevor Mbakwe and Andre Hollins were particularly impressive today. I thought Hollins showed real leadership down the stretch and made some really nice passes– we’re watching him become a point guard in front of our eyes. Mbakwe, on the other hand, played without his knee brace for the first time and looked convincing in one of his most explosive outings of the year. He was just playing tough all game, not taking off a single play. Very encouraging performances from those two.
- RE the brace, Mbakwe said: “I don’t want people thinking about my knee anymore. I’m glad that’s over with. I’ll probably throw it away. (kidding) I don’t think our trainer would be too happy about that. Those things cost a lot of money.”
- A stunning percentage of the offense (for the Gophers) came from the starters. Andre Hollins (22), Rodney Williams (15), Austin Hollins (12), Mbakwe (11) and Joe Coleman (8) combined for 68 of the Gophers’ 76 points, good for 89 percent of Minnesota’s scoring. Only Julian Welch (4) and Oto Osenieks (4) scored off the bench, all of their efforts in the first half.
- Smith played a much shorter bench than usual in the second half, playing only Maverick Ahanmisi, Julian Welch, Andre Ingram and Elliott Eliason for one quick stretch in that period. The bench didn’t score at all in the second.
- The Gophers had some excruciating struggles with botched in-bounds passes in the second, goofing up six times in a row in one stretch. Coach Tubby Smith blamed the lapses on Michigan State’s 2-3 zone they used some in the final half. “They take a lot of those angles and gaps away from you, so were having a lot of trouble, and then they’re so long and athletic,” Smith said. “We laid some very weak cuts at the time because they had no one really on the ball, pressuring the ball, but now five guys are guarding four guys.”
- In general, turnovers continued to be a big problem for the Gophers, who turned the ball over eight times in the first 8:05 of second half play, which Michigan State cashed in for 7 points (they had 14 points off turnovers overall). Minnesota stopped turning over the ball completely from there, but 16 miscues is just too many for the Gophers to be consistently successful in this league.
- On today’s crowd at Williams arena, Andre Hollins said: “That was the loudest I’ve ever heard the Barn. That was great. Got my blood flowing.”
- Smith was asked where he sees the Gophers going after watching today’s win. “I’m not a prognosticator,” he said. "We’ve got to be better. If we can get better off today’s game then the sky’s the limit.”