Saturday, January 26, 2008

Skid Hits Three In Loss At OSU

All you needed to watch was the first five to 10 minutes of the men's basketball game to know the Gophers didn't deserve a Big Ten road win Saturday at Value City Arena in Columbus. The Ohio State Buckeyes jumped out to an 11-0 lead and eventually led 19-3, a margin that would dwindle at times but never be overcome by a sloppy Gophers team that eventually lost 75-60.

While the Buckeyes shot well and played hard for 40 minutes, the Gophers have only themselves to blame for falling behind by such a wide margin at the beginning of the game. The Buckeyes started the game in a 2-2-1 three-quarter court press that the Gophers' starters didn't seem prepared for. No Gopher seemed ready to flash into the middle of the zone press. Minnesota guards seemed willing to dribble right into traps in the corner right across the half-court line. The Gophers either weren't ready for the press or they didn't execute their press break well.

So it was during the first ten or so minutes that the Gophers would give the Buckeyes easy baskets. As their confidence grew, OSU's outside shots from Evan Turner and Jamar Butler began to fall. Pretty soon, the Gophers were on the verge of being run out of the gym.

But give the Gophers credit for not quitting. They surely learned at Penn State that no lead is insurmountable. The Gophers did fight back, trimming the lead to 10 at halftime. Much of that can be credited to Lawrence Westbrook, who stepped up and hit three three pointers to loosen Ohio State's zone—which by the way did a tremendous job pressuring our front court.

In the second half the Gophers came roaring back. All of a sudden Minnesota was getting easy baskets off of turnovers. The Gophers pulled within 44-41 with this lineup: Spencer Tollackson, Dan Coleman, Damian Johnson, Westbrook and Lawrence McKenzie. But then all hell broke loose. Johnson picked up a ticky-tack foul—he eventually fouled out—and went to the bench. Minutes later Tubby sat Westbrook and McKenzie, likely for a breather, and substituted Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber.

It was at this point when the Gophers' comeback hopes were thwarted once and for all. Nolen and Hoffarber couldn't handle the perimeter defensive pressure. Inexplicably, Nolen repeatedly picked up his dribble way too far beyond the arc. With less than 10 minutes left in the half, and the margin within striking distance, it was the group led by our much-heralded freshman that gave the game right back.

Turnovers have been a boon to Minnesota's success this season, but on this night the Buckeyes at least evened the playing field—both teams committed 17 turnovers. Likewise, the Gophers battled well on the glass, losing the war on the boards 38-34. But most impressively here is the fact Minnesota was able to secure 16 offensive rebounds. Most of the time they didn't convert on second chance opportunities, but getting those chances is an obvious improvement.

And while the Gophers can surely blame themselves for a poorly played road game, that shouldn't take anything away from the Buckeyes. Jamar Butler hurt the Gophers all evening, finishing the night with 27 points and nine assists. Turner added 17, including 3-6 from three.

Dan Coleman led the way offensively for Minnesota with 14 points. Coleman was slightly better on this night of being aggressive in the paint. But in other instances he seemed to revert to his tentative self. Lawrence McKenzie added 10 points and Hoffarber and Johnson added eight. Westbrook didn't score after his three first half triples.

The loss is Minnesota's third straight after starting conference play 2-1. Now at 2-4 in the conference, the Gophers have one large mountain to climb if they want to be considered an NCAA-worthy team.

Other Notable Happenings:

** Jamal Abu-Shamala played the first three minutes of the game, picked up two quick fouls, and never returned. (I missed the first minute of the second half, so it's plausible he played the first two minutes of the first half and one in the second).

** Kevin Payton played just two minutes, and they came in the second half when Tubby Smith needed to find a defensive replacement when Damian Johnson went to the bench.

** Stealing Payton's and AS' minutes was Travis Busch, who played an energy-filled, if athletically-challenged, 13 minutes. Busch managed to grab three rebounds, an impressive feat considering Jon Williams played 15 minutes with his almost 300 pound frame and didn't pull down one board.

** Tubby Smith received his first technical of the year after Busch was clearly pushed to the ground while grabbing a rebound on the defensive end. A blind official called Busch for traveling after he tumbled to the ground. This prompted Tubby to storm down towards Thad Matta's side of the court, ripping off his glasses while he angrily gave his two cents to the zebras.

** The Gophers blocked just one shot (it went to Johnson). Meanwhile, the Buckeyes sent eight shots back. Part of the reason for this is because when the Gophers penetrated or tried to score on the interior, they either double-clutched or faded if even just slightly.

** After missing last weekend's home game against Michigan State, Al Nolen played his worst game of the year. Nolen picked up the ball far too often when he should have kept his dribble alive and seemed somewhat rattled by an OSU crowd that didn't stop chanting "air ball" at the freshman after a bad first half miss. On the night, Nolen had zero points on an ugly 0-2 from the floor, and committed three turnovers. Let's not be so hard on Nolen. This team is asking for quite a bit from him.

** Hoffarber couldn't get his shot off and finished 1-7 from beyond the arc. He forced a couple threes and was rewarded with a couple bunnies to finish with eight points.

UP Next: Minnesota's front loaded schedule finally lightens up. The Gophers head to Ann Arbor Thursday night to face Michigan, one of the Big Ten's most beatable teams.


lurker said...

You are right about beating the press in the first half. It was painful. My thought was how could they be this unprepared after having a week to work on THE Ohio State.

You didn't mention much about Johnson. I thought he was our best player during the time he was on the floor.

WWWWWW said...

This game made me angry and drunk.

PJS said...

For the first time during a game this year, Miss PJS told me to calm down. So, yeah, it was a pretty frustrating night. Perhaps I should start binge drinking again.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Tough L but just 1 L after all.

Win 4 (or 5) of next 5 = payback.

GopherNation said...

I didn't get to into the playing time of guys like Busch and Williams but you covered it. They played too many minutes and I found it interesting that OSU played with a 7 man rotation.

Also, the Buckeyes' athleticism rushed our shots, especially the Hoff.

alex said...

I'm glad that I missed this game. Sounds like it sucked.

PJS said...

Well, the Buckeyes have defended the perimeter well all season, so that's no real surprise. But the Gophers didn't seem to know how to attack OSU's match up zone to begin the game. That dry spell to start the game hurt.

On playing time, I tend to agree with you Tom. But I think Tubby is somewhat hand tied. We have only three real power forwrads/centers in Coleman, Tollackson and WIlliams. Damian is more of a three. So, Williams needs to take up some minutes.

As for Busch playing. Well, he provides some defense and rebounding where Hoffarber and A-S cannot provide anything other than spot-up shooting. I'm not saying I want to see Busch's role increase, but only that I see why he is on the floor.

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