Saturday, March 1, 2008

On Senior Night, McKenzie Lifts Gophers Over OSU

Lawrence McKenzie scored 20 second half points and for the first time in the Tubby Smith era, the Golden Gophers won a game they might not have been favored to win.

The Gophers beat Ohio State 71-57 Saturday afternoon at Williams Arena in a game that wasn't as close as even the 14 point win indicates. The win does a number of things. Seniors McKenzie, Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman finish their regular season careers at home on a high note. The win also moves Minnesota's record to 8-8 in the conference, giving them a chance to earn the coveted 5th seed in the conference tournament (which would result in a bye and a third meeting with Michigan State). Finally, the win allows the Gophers to keep their longshot dreams of an NCAA bid alive.

The Gophers went on a 20-8 run, largely fueled my McKenzie, to jump out to a 14 point lead midway through the second half. McKenzie was hitting from the outside, from NBA range, off the dribble and the pass and even off balance. It was the type of offensive output the Gophers have needed from McKenize all season long to beat teams in the upper half of the Big Ten.

Turnovers and free throw shooting played a large role. The Gophers struggled to gain momentum in the first in part because they turned the ball over 11 times. That number shrunk to three in the second half. And the typically poor free throw shooting Gophers put the game away in the second half at the free throw line.

The second half effort was perhaps the best 20 minutes the Gophers have put together this season against decent opposition. The half-court man defense was intimidating. Ohio State wasn't getting any easy looks. The Gophers were able to score a few transition buckets and moved the ball well enough on offense to get open shots. They also attacked the basket when necessary, finding holes in Ohio State's zone.

Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber added to McKenzie's onslaught from the perimeter. Hoffarber's offense largely came in the first half, when it was greatly needed. Westbrook played a composed game, dishing on the inside when necessary, fighting for rebounds and loose balls and rising for his own shot within the offense. The outside-oriented offense meant that Coleman and Tollackson weren't huge contributors, though Coleman took the ball up strong when he had the chance and made a couple timely medium range jump shots.

The game Saturday was an amazing difference from when the Gophers travelled to Columbus earlier this season. Then, the Gophers were run out of the Value City Arena (what a horrible name for a stadium!). The Gophers fell behind 19-3 in that game, largely beacuse they couldn't handle OSU's 2-2-1 zone press. The Gophers didn't struggled with the press again Saturday, but with less devastating results (more on that below.)

The Gophers now have a good chance, in my opinion, of finishing fifth in the conference. The Gophers finish the season with trips to Illinois and Indiana. The Gophers lost home games to both teams (in embarrassing fashion to lowly Illinois) but have a chance to beat the Illini. Meanwhile, Ohio State, which has now inexplicably dropped four straight (Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota) has two tough-to-win home games remaning. The Buckeyes will host Purdue on Tuesday an Michigan State next weekend.

If the Gophrs can get that 5-seed in the conference tourament, and upset MSU, wouldn't bubble talk be realistic?

Other Observations

Press Break: It's sort of amazing that in the 27th game of the season the Gophers are struggling to beat a rather ordinary 2-2-1 press. On one occasion Lawrence McKenzie slowly dribbled the ball across halfcourt on the sideline directly into a trap. In most instances, the Gophers didn't attack the press, instead simply being happy to get the ball across halfcourt in 10 seconds. Ohio State pressed most of the game. It wasn't until 3 minutes remained in the first half that the Gophers exploited the press to try and score. And for whatever reason, the Gophers seemed to be unaware of the fact that the best way to attack this type of zone press is by getting the ball in the middle.

Senior Night: After the season ends, we'll take a look back at our three seniors. With a likely NIT bid looming, the Ohio State game might not be the last game for Coleman, Tollackson and McKenzie at Williams Arena. For now, I'll say this. This trio has been through quite a bit during their tenures, both at Minnesota and at previous stops. LMac and Coleman have played for four coaches during their careers. And everyone's favorite theater major has lived his childhood dream of playing for the Gophers. We would have loved for each of them to be better in various areas, but we can applaud them for representing the U well.

Starting Lineup: Another game, another starting lineup. Today it was LMac, Westbrook, Jamal Abu-Shamala, Coleman and Tollackson. A-S played just a few minutes in the first half and went out after the first whistle in the second half. My question: Is this A-S' senior day? Will A-S be on scholarship next season?

Al Nolen: The freshman point guard came off the bench in the first half and promptly looked rattled. He turned the ball over and picked up two fouls. Nolen didn't enter the game in the second half until about nine minutes remained. The frustrating first half didn't change the way Nolen played in the second half. That's encouraging.

Friendly Rim: I haven't laughed during a Minnesota basketball game as hard as I did today when Kosta Koufos, wide open, went up for a one-handed stuff and had the front of the rim send his shot back. It wasn't one of those dunks that understandably rim out or slam off the back of the rim. Nope, this was an embarrassing front rim denial.


alex said...

"Will A-S be on scholarship next season?"
I certainly hope not. There's no reason his spot on the team can't be filled with a more talented player.

The Sports Guy said...

18-10, 8-8
* Say we split and finiah 19-11, 9-9. Then, if we beat Michigan St and than lose to Sconnie, we'd be 20-12 and 10-10 against Big 10 teams.

Would we be the fifth team from the 10? I'm not sure wins against Ohio St and Michigan St would be enough.

We need a 2-0 week.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Even if JAS becomes a walk-on again, his Senior Night will be in March 2009.

WWWWWW said...

The Gophers were actually favored by 3 at gametime, so the trend continues.

Anonymous said...

Coleman didn't play for four coaches during his career. He spent a few weeks out at BC, saw that there was a cocaine problem within the program, and was back in Dinkytown before his freshman season. Then he sat out his freshman year as a RS and played under Monson, Molinari and Tubby, just as Spencer has done.

Zombie Nation said...

Sooo, Brewster is going to have this kind of coaching impact on the football team next season, right? When was the last time Minnesota Basketball was this interesting?

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