Tubby Smith's Golden Gophers shut down the most hyped freshman in the country, led throughout the entire second half and upset the 8th ranked Tar Heels 72-67 Friday night in Puerto Rico.
Blake Hoffarber led the Gophers with 20 points, doing most of his damage from three. Al Nolen played an all-around great 36 minutes and Minnesota's front-court depth was too much for the Tar Heels to handle.
Through the national media prism, the story will be Harrison Barnes. The AP All-American diaper-dandy extraordinaire went 0-12 from the field and finshed with just 6 points, mostly from the free throw stripe in the waning minutes of the game. Credit Minnesota's physical man-to-man defense during the first half and its extended and active 2-3 zone for challenging all of Barnes' shots. It wasn't just Barnes who struggled against Minnesota's defense. The Tar Heels shot just 36 percent on the night and just 4-18 from three.
On this night, Minnesota's girth, physicality and tenacity was too much for North Carolina. All four Minnesota big men deserve credit for out-playing UNC's more athletic post players. The Gophers out-rebounded UNC 44-39. The Gophers needed quality minutes from Trevor Mbakwe, Colton Iverson, Ralph Sampson III and Maurice Walker. All four delivered. Sampson scored inside and outside and finished with 12 and 6. Mbakwe was scrappy and physical and finished with 12 and 9. Iverson, limited to 13 minutes in part because of foul trouble, had an impressive 7 and 11 in that timeframe.
And because Iverson and Sampson had foul issues, Walker needed to play significant minutes. For the most part, they were quality minutes. Walker had 5 and 4, and for a long stretch in the second half, played easily his best minutes as a Gopher. (We'll choose not to focus on that ill-advised 3 from the big fella!)
Leading 27-24 at the half, the Gophers played a crisp final 20 minutes. They came out moving well without the ball on offense and rotating and swarming on defense. The Gophers finished with 18 turnovers on the game, but the vast majority (I believe 14?) came in the first stanza. Credit for the second half composure goes to Nolen, the senior point guard who might not stand out statistically but did a little bit of everything. He ripped a rebound away from a UNC big at an opportune moment. He frustrated Larry Drew II into 4 turnovers.
For Carolina, With Barnes a non-factor, Tyler Zeller stepped up. Zeller led UNC with 16, often showing off a pretty jump hook that seemed relatively unstoppable with either hand.
What's this mean for the Gophers? It's a huge resume-building win. It's a confidence booster to beat a top 10 team. And it means the Gophers get a crack at Bob Huggins' West Virginia Mountaineers in the finals of the Puerto Rico Tip Off, another game that should boost Minnesota's strength of schedule. Oh, and the Big Ten is now 1-0 in the ACC-Big Ten challenge!
Some highlights and other observations after the jump.
Other items to highlight:
- Rodney Williams' put-back dunk in the second half after a Hoffarber miss was one of the most athletic plays I can remember seeing a Minnesota player make. Williams didn't have a great night, but he hit two clutch free throws down the stretch.
- Minnesota's zone. For the second straight game, the Gophers frustrated an opponent with its extended 2/3 zone that will occasionally trap opponents in the corner. Minnesota is playing this zone well because of our athleticism on the wing. Mbakwe and Williams are able to cover significant ground when playing on the blocks. And we have enough girth in the middle to clog up the lanes.
- Tubby Smith's late-game change to throw a token 3/4 court press against UNC. It didn't lead to a turnover, but it forced the Tar Heels to burn a few more seconds than they would have liked.
- Free throw shooting down the stretch. I don't have numbers from the final 5 minutes, but the percentage was high.
- Seeing Roy Williams have a mini-tantrum after half-time when interviewed by Andy Katz. Wonder what he said post game?
- Chip Armelin played like a freshman. He air-balled a free throw, missed a couple open looks and played, well, like a freshman.
- Austin Hollins played 15 quiet minutes.
- No fun for UNC fans to read that the Cameron Crazies started chanting "Minnesota" when a PA announcer announced the score of our game at Duke.
This was a great win for Minnesota, and despite all the superlatives above, they were far from perfect. They can play better. They will eventually get Devoe Joseph back. If the Gophers continue to gel and play well as a team, this could be a fun year. But first things first, Bobby Huggins and the Mountaineers.