Maybe the tryptophan from Thursday's turkey wasn't out their systems, but whatever it was, the efficient, quick-paced Gophers squad that beat Iowa State on the road Tuesday was replaced by a sluggish team that needed some time to get rolling Saturday. But once the Gophers did get rolling, they coasted to a 77-59 victory over Central Michigan at Williams Arena.
After playing a close first half, Central Michigan appeared to be rattled in the second half as the Gophers applied more full-court pressure. Central Michigan committed 26 fouls, which led to the Gophers making 24 of 33 free-throw attempts. But Minnesota didn't help itself by finishing the game with 24 turnovers and only 16 assists, a ratio that worried Gophers coach Tubby Smith.
The first half started out with an ugly exchange. In the first five minutes of the game, there were five fouls, three jump-ball situations, violations for carrying the ball, traveling and kicking -- and only nine points between the two teams, with the Gophers leading 6-3. And both teams finished the first half with 11 fouls apiece. Minnesota's three seniors -- and leading scorers -- managed only 14 points.
"The first half was sloppy, I think for the most part. ... It was sloppy, but we won," said senior center Spencer Tollackson, who finished with 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks.
Smith said he wanted the Gophers to stay focused on Central Michigan and not look ahead to their matchup against Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., on Tuesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Gophers looked sluggish early, but were ready to roll by the end of the first half when Tollackson hit a long-range three-pointer to end the half and give the Gophers a 35-29 advantage.
Smith said that shot propelled the Gophers into a solid second half. Minnesota went on a 12-3 run in under three minutes after halftime and never looked back.
"I think we built off the big shot that Spencer had there before the half," Smith said. "Something like that is always a big boost because we were behind, came back. So we're showing some signs of not giving up and not getting too frustrated."
In spite of their 0-3 record going into Saturday's game against Minnesota, Central Michigan managed to score more than 70 points per game in its three prior contests. The Chippewas displayed some of their offensive prowess against the Gophers, hitting 40 percent of their three-point attempts. Central Michigan tried to fight off the Gophers with a strong performance by MAC standout Giordan Watson, who finished with 22 points and five steals.
Throughout the season, the Gophers have shown a tendency to play better in the second half than the first, a trend that doesn't concern McKenzie.
"I think you have to come out and get a good start, but the second half is the time you have to pick things up the most," he said.