About a week ago I may have been down on this Gopher squad more than anybody else. But the rumors of their demise may have been greatly exaggerated.
Not only do our favorite hoopsters have a winning streak but they have won both games on the road. As pointed out on the BTN broadcast this is the first time since 2009 that the Gophers have won two consecutive road games. It was wins at Iowa and then at Wisconsin exactly three years ago to the day. But this particular win streak has to be a huge confidence builder for a Gopher team that was really struggling after starting 0-4 in the Big Ten. Can these two wins propel them to several more Big Ten wins? They figured out a way to win a close one over a highly ranked Indiana team and then they learned how to pull away against an inferior opponent with the 14 point win over Penn State.
After a tightly contested first half, the second half was a game of runs that eventually allowed the Gophers to build up a lead that was too much for Penn State to overcome. Early at the start of the half the Gophers used an 11-0 run. Joe Coleman scored six straight then Rodney with a big dunk in the paint and the run was finished by Austin Hollins nailing a three. But then Penn State when on an 8-0 run over about five and a half minutes to get the lead back down to three. Then it was Minnesota's turn again. Over the next two minutes they went on another 11-0 run to open up a 14 point lead.
But the story of the game for Minnesota was clearly the continued emergence of Joe Coleman. The freshman started his third game for the Gophers and he tallied a career high 23 points. Coleman is providing some aggressiveness and willingness to draw contact going to the basket. Today he got himself to the free throw line 12 times early and he converted all 12 free throws before going 1/2 in the final minute to finish 13/14. His toughness has given us a much needed spark that was desperately needed.
This team is certainly playing better and with more confidence but there is still a long way to go. There are still 12 Big Ten games remaining and we dug ourselves a pretty big hole by losing the first four (DAMN that Illinois game!). And while we are playing better on both ends there are still some things that need to be cleaned up.
Penn State really did dominate the boards as I thought they might in the Open Thread post. They only grabbed a couple more in total than Minnesota. But that was mostly because they missed a lot more shots than we did (they missed more shots than we took!!), this is a pretty good base case for why efficiency stats are so much more valuable than box score stats. They had 15 offensive rebounds that led to 18 second chance points. And they held the Gophers to just 3 offensive boards which is rare for the Gophers even without Trevor Mbakwe. That is quite an advantage that was fortunately not an issue this afternoon.
The second story of the game for the Gophers was their defense, holding PSU to 30% shooting from the field, which is an incredible number. Not more more to say about that other than this was some of the best team defense we have seen all year. We are getting to three-point shooters better and we defended the high pick-n-roll better than we have for most of the year. It wasn't perfect but it is an improvement. It appears to me like Tubby and staff are getting these guys to play better.
Will this win catapult us to bigger and better things? I still don't want to get too carried away but for the first time since right before the Mbakwe injury there is a reason for optimism. The season is not over...yet.
Up next is a home game with Northwestern. Personally I think that we match-up horribly with the Wildcats. Teams that shoot very well and who are disciplined enough to run their offense well are not good for us. Then on the other end they play a tough 1-3-1 zone defense, we have fared poorly against zone defenses this year. But the good news is that we have a week to prepare for this game while they travel to Wisconsin on Wednesday. If there is any team in the conference that I'd want to have extra days to prepare for it is Northwestern and their unique offense and defense. Given our recent confidence boost and then seven days to prepare for a home game, I feel better about this game.
Renewed hope for the season and games that are more enjoyable to watch. This team is playing better together and the season isn't over quite yet for Gopher basketball.