Williams leads way in Gophers' latest rout

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 16, 2012 - 6:40 AM

The senior needed stitches after an elbow to the face but still did nice work on both ends of the floor vs. Tennessee State.

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Right now, it's simply looking easy for Rodney Williams.

The senior forward is shooting 80 percent from the floor without ever really looking for a shot. Through the first three games of the Gophers men's basketball season, he has been the pillar of consistency and will be the steady force the team needs to be successful in the days ahead.

Aided by a balanced team effort that made his job look simple, Williams helped pick up the Gophers early and kept them going late as they dropped Tennessee State 72-43 at Williams Arena on Thursday.

Williams -- who had a team-high 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals -- lifted a Gophers team that looked flat at times by playing strong defense against Tennessee State standout Robert Covington and dishing some nifty passes to his teammates for scores.

Then, with the energy lacking late, a bandaged Williams came out flying to boost a healthy victory margin. Easy Peasy.

"For the most part, that's how it's going to be," said Williams, who received three stitches over his right eye after an elbow to the face. "We've got a lot of weapons out there, and those guys being so good, they're making easy shots for me. And I'm just taking what the defense is giving me."

The Gophers have now opened the season with three consecutive victories in the span of less than a week. But after first blowing past American and Toledo, the home team had a little more trouble with the sizeable and scrappy Tigers. Tennessee State (0-3) came and played zone defense against the Gophers, who struggled to penetrate and saw a 15-point lead fall to eight with four minutes to go before halftime.

But as the team clamped down on its interior defense -- getting nice efforts from Elliott Eliason and Trevor Mbakwe -- it was able to create some space with a couple of nice lobs from Williams to Mo Walker, and then push the lead with perimeter shooting.

With the "Hollinses" leading the charge, the Gophers hit six three-pointers (two from Austin, two from Andre), including three in the final 2 minutes, 41 seconds of the half to boost their lead to 39-21 at the intermission.

"I think that's what we've got to have every night," said Austin Hollins, who scored 12 points. "We've got to have the intensity at a high level on the defensive end, and then the offense will come."

In the second half, the Gophers pulled away for good, even with Williams sidelined. The Gophers got to the basket easier (though they still missed a couple of layups) and went to the free-throw line 10 times (although they missed six of those). They were able to hold Tennessee State without much production and force the Tigers to commit 20 turnovers (although they had 20 themselves).

When Williams returned with a bandage over his eye, three dunks pumped life into the crowd once more and gave the Gophers some new energy as they finished out strong.

"Usually our defense is ahead of the offense this time of the year anyway, but that's sort of what we hang our hat on because I think that gives us the best chance of winning a ballgame," coach Tubby Smith said.

  • GOPHERS 72, TENNESSEE STATE 43

    Up next: 6 p.m. Sunday vs. Richmond •

    Williams Arena • TV: BTN (1500-AM)

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