Four days before playing by far their greatest challenge yet -- against Duke – the Gophers looked like a deeply flawed team that got exposed by Richmond.
The team turned the ball over 19 times. They looked lethargic in the first half with an offense that looked out-of-whack.
So …bad time for that to happen?
The Gophers said no on Sunday – mostly because they were able to regroup and respond strongly in the second half, rallying from a seven-point deficit for a 72-57 victory. They don’t head to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas on a low point, but they also were given a firm reality check.
“We really needed that,” Austin Hollins said. “We had a few blowouts in our first few games and we didn’t need a blowout this game – we needed a game like this, where we face some adversity and we overcame. We had to make some clutch shots and play some clutch defense, and I think that was a real good test for us going into this tournament.”
Perhaps he’s right. After all, the Gophers haven’t been able to fix their most glaring issues in turnovers, and maybe that’s in part due to the fact that they weren’t given sufficient motivation. The truth was, the Gophers could AFFORD to turn the ball over nearly 20 times against their first three opponents. They had more than 17 blunders twice before Sunday, and were still never threatened.
But on Sunday, against solid competition (but nowhere near the strength of Duke), the Gophers had a chance to have TURNOVERS MATTER thrown in their faces. I’m not saying the Gophers weren’t serious about fixing that problem before, but it’s human nature, right? Real-time incentive works.
“I think a lot of us were kind of frustrated in the first half,” Trevor Mbakwe said. “It was our first close game this season. We maybe looked over them a little bit. It’s kind of hard when you have Duke coming up next and a nice trip to the Bahamas. But we had some key guys step up.”
Rodney Williams said he was impressed with the poise of the team to turn around an ugly half and exert intensity in the second half.
“That shows that we’re a pretty poised team, I think,” he said. “You know, our defense is excellent right now, so I think we showed a lot tonight.”
Even so, that test is only beneficial if the Gophers learn from it. A similar effort against Duke would most likely result in a loss.
“We were behind a few times, we had to come from behind, we had deficits, but that tells you and shows you what you’re made of,” coach Tubby Smith said. “You really can’t set those types of situations up – you try to in practice, but the best way to learn is out here on the basketball court in a game.”