The Gophers needed this one. The Gophers had this game won. And then Tubby Smith watched as his team let Michigan State end the game on a 14-1 run. The Gophers lost 53-48 and fell to 6-9 in conference play. Talk of the NCAA Tournament is now silly. The Gophers have lost 6 of 7 games. NCAA Tournament teams don't let that happen even with injuries playing a factor.
I've defended Tubby in recent weeks. Not this time. Not after this meltdown. The Gophers built an 8 point lead with less than 5 minutes to play. How? They used freshman guards Chip Armelin and Maverick Ahanmisi to push tempo. Ahanmisi was able to get the Gophers into their offensive sets efficiently. And because the Gophers again were playing exclusively in a 2-3 zone, Ahanmisi wasn't a liability on defense.
Tubby removed Ahanmisi from the game. He went to a lineup that didn't include a point guard. Spartans coach Tom Izzo pounced. He put on a full-court press. The Gophers turned the ball over. Spartans scored. The Spartans continued to press, and while the Gophers cut down their turnovers, they began playing not to lose. Tubby went to a 3-man-weave at the top of the court. This was quickly nullified when Izzo began switching on every screen. But the Gophers spent 10 seconds of each 35 second shot clock getting the ball up the court, and another 10 seconds weaving the perimeter aimlessly.
Coach Smith didn't help his team tonight. He oversaw an 8 point lead at home with less than 5 minutes to play evaporate in expeditious fashion. That 8 point lead was a 1 point lead in 2 minutes! In 2 minutes on our home floor, the Gophers saw their tournament hopes fade from on the bubble to off.
Minnesota's offensive possessions down the stretch were wholly unwatchable. When Tubby called a timeout it didn't matter. The Gophers put nothing substantive together on their home court down the stretch.
Still, with 22 seconds left the Gophers trailed just 2. Tubby called a timeout. The resulting shot was an Armelin step-back three pointer. When Izzo calls a timeout to get a shot, the Spartans are going to get a good look. Oftentimes when Tubby calls a timeout, the Gophers look confused.
There were some bright points of course. Armelin had 12 points and 2 steals off the bench in 21 minutes. Ralph Sampson III was solid, finishing with 10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks. Ahanmisi's 14 minutes didn't fill the stat-sheet, but the Gophers were just much quicker and more efficient getting into their offense when he was on the floor. I'll be interested to see the +/- for tonight. I'm betting Ahanmisi is easily on the + side. Mbakwe was Mbakwe. 13 and 10. But in one late game situation, the Gophers fed him on the low block. He went to what must be the Ron Jirsa, Vince Taylor or Tubby Smith patented post move -- the running hook. It fell way short.
Interestingly, Rodney Williams found himself on the bench for most of the game. He played 11 minutes. Austin Hollins took his minutes and played OK. But during that late game meltdown, Hollins at one point was caught at the top of the key trying to handle the ball. Kalin Lucas made him look foolish and tied the ball up.
There are other things we can highlight, and I'll update this post in the morning. But Tubby Smith's fourth year went from disappointment to near disaster Tuesday night at Williams Arena.