It was senior
night day but the lone senior healthy enough to play, once again wasn't enough. Hoffarber led all Gophers with 17 points, eight of which came in the last three minutes but Rodney Williams had probably his best game of the conference season and Trevor Mbakwe had his usual double-double-ness.
Hoffarber worked awfully hard to get 17 points but the day ultimately belonged to the Nittany Lions. Penn State used a 14-2 run in the first half and a 14-1 run in the second to build leads in both halves that Minnesota just couldn't overcome. This was really the Talor Battle and Jeff Brooks show as those to combined for 42 which was 63.6% of the Nittany Lion's points. Each hit a big three in the final minutes to hold the Gophers off and come away with their 9th Big Ten win.
Minnesota battled back to tie it and even take the lead on a Blake Hoffarber three-point play (the old fashioned kind) 56-57 with under three minutes to go. But we all know how late leads work out for us. Here was the sequence of events over the final 2:40.
- Blake Hoffarber put the Gophers ahead with a three-point play 56-57
- Talor Battle hits a HUGE fade-away three over the top of a jumping Ralph Sampson 59-57
- Hoffarber hits a two to tie 59-59
- Jeff Brooks hits a three 62-59
- Rodney makes 1 FT, Minnesota gets the ball on a tip out of bounds 62-60
- Ralph Sampson airballs a three.
- Tim Frazier makes two free throws 64-60
- Hoffarber three 64-63 13.8 remaining
- Battle makes two free throws 66-63 10.5
- Hoffarber misses a deep three.
- GAME OVER
There is a lot to pick apart in there but it comes down to having a great shooter, no reliable playmakers and a power forward who disappeared in the final minutes. It is hard to fault Mbakwe as late game situations are tough on post players and it isn't really his strength. Hoffarber is a very clutch shooter but he can only do so much when everyone watching the game knows he's going to be the one shooting it.
This team limps into the Big Ten Tournament with a third game against Northwestern looming. Maybe Al Nolen returns to give this team some life and some much needed playmaking ability. But I think that even if he returns it will be too little and too late. When asked if he thinks this team is capable of making another run in the Big Ten Tournament like they did a year ago Tubby shook his head and said...
"We've got a long way to go."
More thoughts after watching this team live for the first time this season.
Rodney Williams has taken a lot of heat lately (along with the majority of the roster) but he came through today with his best game in the Big Ten season. His fadeaway, baseline shot with the shot-clock expiring to tie the game with 2:39 to go was arguably the biggest shot of his career. Statistically it was pretty good with 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a huge block on Talor Battle and most importanly he had zero turnovers! But beyond the box score Rodney was mentally tuned into the game for the first time in his Gopher career. He caught the ball and knew what he was going to do with it. He nailed his first shot of the game just inside the three point line and from that point on he was taking the ball to the hoop with authority and making good decisions.
I'll admit that I never bought into the line that Tubby made a huge mistake by starting Blake at point when Nolen went down. The argument is that Mav wasn't the best option but let him figure things out in February so he'd be stronger in March. I believed that Mav was just untrustworthy in Feb and Tubby was forced to play Blake. But I very well could have been wrong. Ahanmisi had maybe his best game as a Gopher today. His box score isn't going to jump out at you but the kid was confident on offense, did a pretty good job defending Talor Battle in the first half and made a few really nice plays. He was actually a contributor today, not just a minute eater.
The other major coaching decision following the Al Nolen injury was to "go big." We've seen most of our starting lineups consist of Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III and Colten Iverson. I'm starting to wonder if we should or could go small? How about some small ball? Put Mbakwe in the middle, let Rodney play the PF position and then go with a three guard lineup. I realize our depth is tenuous but we are getting almost no production out of Iverson and Sampson, why not let our freshman guards get some time on the floor together. The move would show some confidence in them and give them the freedom to make some plays. It can't hurt at this point.
Hats off to Penn State for finishing tied for 4th in the Big Ten. It wasn't long ago when this team was playing awful and looking like they'd be battling with Iowa for 10th place.
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