23 turnovers rarely results in a win, but the Gophers were fortunate to catch Fairfield on a cold shooting night and they pulled out the 10-point home win on Thursday night.
Fairfield was the first team to press the Gophers this year and it proved effective as our entire roster turned the ball over. The starting five accounted for 17 and the bench gave us the other six. Interesting that the only player with five minutes or more of playing time to NOT turn the ball over was Rodney Williams. The unacceptable number of turnovers was due to a combination of the Stag press and sloppy play by the Gophers but whatever the reason I'm glad we came away with a win and I'm glad the sloppiness was caught on film so it can be fixed.
"Even though we turned them over 20 times, we didn’t convert. We would turn the ball over and give the ball right back. It was a comedy of turnovers for a while. I mean 43 turnovers in a game, that’s ugly."
I really think that we were rather fortunate to win this ugly game last night. I think I adequately pointed out that Fairfield is a pretty good team and we dodged a bullet last night. Fairfield shot just 65%5 from the free throw line and perhaps more significant the only shot 2/16 from behind the arc. This is typically a good shooting team that missed a lot of open shots last night. Maybe we can thank the uniqueness of The Barn but whatever the reason had the Stags been shooting only slightly better than 12.5% from three, this very easily could have been a loss.
Since this was the first game I was actually able to watch I did come away with a few positives.
1 - Mbakwe's free throw shooting was very good. The double-double machine shot just 63% from the line last year and nailed 16/18 last night.
"That was first thing I did this offseason. I missed too many free throws last year. I know teams are going to foul me the way I play, and I need to make them pay for those fouls from the line. I think that was key for this game, how I would make them--especially how ugly the game was. I think that kind of helped us down the stretch and helped keep the lead to a certain point. It let us get back into the game."
2 - Andre Hollins was more assertive and aggressive. The freshman recorded his first double-digit scoring game and was second on the team in rebounding (which may be more of an indictment on others, but good for Dre). Late in the game he was taking the ball hard to the rim, drawing fouls and making his free throws. In the post-game quotes Austin Hollins had this to say about Andre's game.
"He was definitely a lot more aggressive. Like Trevor said, he’s learning. He and Joe both work hard at practice, and you know it’s a learning experience, and every day they try to get better. They’re going to learn and I think the experience will help them farther along the road."
3 - Maverick Ahanmisi looked very confident on both ends of the floor, I was impressed. At one point he was moving guys who were in the wrong position to make sure that a particular play was set up correctly. In the short amount of time that I've been able to watch, I believe he is one of our best on the ball defenders we have. His box score won't jump out at you but he was much better than I anticipated.
4 - The offense was more fluid than it has been in years past. I thought there was very good spacing and ball movement. A couple guys were able to get to the rim and there were some set plays to get the ball in guys' hands where they could do something with it. In the second half they ran a couple sets to get Oto Osenicks a couple open looks at three. They got the ball to Mbakwe in the middle of the lane with room to operate. And the spread the floor appropriately to let Andre use his athleticism to get to the rim. Just a few examples of what I thought was a more effective offense. It was not stagnant and painful to watch, it may have been sloppy but it appeared as though there was purpose to ball movement and player movement.
What I didn't like?
1 - Turnovers. Not much more needs to be said.
2 - Ralph was weak inside. I guess we should expect this but when the going gets physical, Ralph shies away. I don't mind just eight points, but only two rebounds is unacceptable.
3 - Team defense is not very good right now! This is maybe my number one takeaway from the game. We give up way too many open looks at three. And penetration is just too easy as well. Too many times I saw guys penetrate right down the middle of the lane. A guy like Mbakwe would step up and try to get in the guy's way. But too many other guys (Ralph and Rodney in particular) would wait for the guy to go up so they could get a block. That is just undisciplined defense that leads to fouls, missed rebounds or quick passes for dunks (or open threes). It is not just those two guys. Everyone struggles with helping on penetration and/or keeping their man from getting deep into the lane. Our team defense is not nearly good enough right now.
I'll take the win and I'm hoping the Stags start winning a ton of games to boost our RPI. I'm still not sure what I can expect from this team in the next couple weeks and the Big Ten season can wait a long time before we need to start playing those caliber teams night in and night out. We have things to improve upon but some of these things are correctable.