U thinks small to beat Virginia Tech

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 1, 2011 - 11:51 AM

A lineup without big men Trevor Mbakwe or Ralph Sampson III held together when it mattered the most.

view larger photos

  

In its first game without star and leader Trevor Mbakwe, the emotionally drained Gophers -- by most media and fan accounts -- were expected to crumble. They didn't.

Powered by players who hadn't been in the starting lineup all season and others who have stayed mainly in the shadows all year, the Gophers overcame a late three-point barrage from Virginia Tech and crept past the Hokies in an emotional 58-55 victory in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday in Williams Arena.

"Obviously, everyone was expecting us to lose," said guard Julian Welch, noting the major losses of Mbakwe, who is out for the season because of a torn right ACL, and a temporarily hobbled Ralph Sampson III. "It was just us against the world, so we just came in with that type mindset and just played our hearts out."

One of the toughest games they've played all year brought out the toughest in several players. With Sampson -- who is nursing a turned ankle -- joining Mbakwe on the bench, the Gophers got a season-best effort from Elliott Eliason, who was stellar in the post all night, finishing with eight points and seven rebounds. Rodney Williams had perhaps his best all-around game. Welch, in his first start, was clutch at the end, finishing with 15 points and four assists.

With 2 1/2 minutes left on the clock, the Hokies, who refused to go away despite the Gophers' tenacity, took a 53-51 lead on a 12-foot jumper from Erick Green. Green led the Hokies' attack with 25 points, including four three-pointers.

But the Gophers grappled to the end as a jersey-less Mbakwe brought his typical heated enthusiasm from the sideline, screaming encouragement to his teammates as they charged onto the court for the final minute of play. With 18 seconds remaining and the Hokies still up by one, Welch sunk two free throws to give the team a one-point lead, and then sunk two more nine seconds later to ensure the victory.

Green, who appeared to hurt his right shoulder as he slid off the raised court in the waning seconds, rimmed out a three-pointer at the buzzer.

"For us to be good, we have to be scrappers, hustler players, we have to do the little things, just like coach always preaches," said Welch, who said he grew up visualizing moments like the one he had to win it. "Especially now that we don't have Trevor."

That gutty mentality showed from the start, when the Gophers jumped out to a quick 8-0 start. Andre Hollins led the early drive with four quick points, and the rest of the guards were showing their athleticism. Eliason was looking good, the defense was solid -- it was working, without Sampson or Mbakwe.

But the real challenge came after a 15-5 Virginia Tech run put the Hokies up 28-25 at halftime and put the pressure on the young Gophers lineup.

The home team responded with poise, coach Tubby Smith said, hanging with the Hokies, who stayed dangerously close with a barrage of precise three-point shots. But the Gophers held their resolve.

"Confidence definitely grew as the game went on," said Williams, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. "Just seeing that everyone body else was around me was playing hard the whole time. When you've got Trevor cheering you on, he could be at home sulking, but I think with him there amping us on, I think that gave us a lot of confidence as well."

  • related content

  • Reusse: Bedlam at the Barn is mostly benign

    Thursday December 1, 2011

    Those who recall edgy Big Ten basketball at Williams Arena know the U has work to do.

  • Chart: Gophers replacements shine

    Thursday December 1, 2011

    With Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III watching on the bench in street clothes, coach Tubby Smith gave big minutes to Rodney Williams (38), Elliott Eliason (32) and Julian Welch...

  • Gophers-Virginia Tech game recap

    Thursday December 1, 2011

    The junior, who started for the first time this year at power forward, had probably his best all-around game this season, scoring 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting.

  • Basketball postgame: Players step up, overcome low expectations

    Thursday December 1, 2011

    Without star Trevor Mbakwe and solid senior Ralph Sampson III, several Gophers excelled on Wednesday.

  • Minnesota Gophers vs. Virginia Tech basketball. Minnesota's Joe Colema...

  • BIG TEN/ACC CHALLENGE Gophers 58, virginia tech 55 Up next: 1:15 p.m. Saturday vs. Southern California • Williams Arena • TV: Big Ten Network (1500ESPN)
  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Cleveland 86 FINAL
Indiana 93
Washington 81 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Golden State 113 FINAL
Toronto 89
New York 121 FINAL
Detroit 115
Orlando 88 FINAL
Atlanta 95
Charlotte 98 FINAL
Boston 106
LA Clippers 97 FINAL
Memphis 79
Brooklyn 98 FINAL
Houston 102
Miami 102 FINAL
New Orleans 104
Minnesota 89 FINAL
Chicago 96
Utah 104 FINAL
Denver 82
San Antonio 107 FINAL
Sacramento 96
Milwaukee 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 101
Oklahoma City 112 FINAL
Portland 115
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
New Jersey 2
Calgary 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Washington 0 FINAL
Carolina 3
Chicago 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Colorado 5 FINAL(SO)
Dallas 4
Los Angeles 2 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Siena 63 FINAL
Quinnipiac 73
Harvard 49 FINAL
Cornell 57
Penn 69 FINAL
Brown 75
Fairfield 65 FINAL
Canisius 72
Manhattan 75 FINAL
Iona 79
Saint Peters 67 FINAL
Marist 69
Princeton 60 FINAL
Yale 81
Ohio 58 FINAL
Akron 70
Dartmouth 84 FINAL
Columbia 71
Valparaiso 56 FINAL
Cleveland State 53
Louisiana Tech 75 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 88
Seton Hall 77 FINAL
Xavier 60
Cornell 54 FINAL
Harvard 60
Yale 49 FINAL
(14) Princeton 67
Elon 51 FINAL
Drexel 54
Northeastern 47 FINAL
James Madison 82
St Johns 60 FINAL
Butler 49
Creighton 71 FINAL
Georgetown 62
Brown 58 FINAL
Penn 75
Columbia 50 FINAL
Dartmouth 60
Canisius 54 FINAL
Siena 58
St Josephs Brooklyn 35 FINAL
NJIT 78
Western Carolina 86 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 80
Colorado 66 FINAL
Arizona 51
Southern Ill 72 FINAL
Bradley 66
Drake 59 FINAL
Wichita State 80
Indiana State 71 FINAL
Evansville 53
Illinois State 53 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 67
Northern Iowa 70 FINAL
Missouri State 72
Utah 42 FINAL
(10) Arizona State 46
Providence 62 FINAL
Villanova 71
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close