Tubby Smith's Golden Gophers fell hard with Thursday's NIT Championship loss, but he is certainly excited about his program's future.
Hey, Gopher Nation! It's Quinn (on Twitter) from Daily Gopher's SB Nation cousin, Rumble in the Garden. I cover theSt. John's Red Storm throughout the season and am currently a sophomore at St. John's. I want to thank you guys for allowing me to provide you with a recap of Thursday's NIT final between your beloved Gophers and Stanford. If it can't be red and white, it might as well be maroon and gold. This may entail a private tour of "The Barn," though.
The Stanford Cardinal proved why they belong in Madison Square Garden's winner's circle.
Stanford defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the NIT Championship, 75-51, on Tuesday in New York City. A game that was expected to be close and competitive quickly became a Big Apple romp.
A mid-first half 12-0 run, led by strong guard play from Stanford sophomore guard Aaron Bright, turned a Minnesota 4-point lead into an 8-point deficit. The Gophers did not convert a field goal in the final 8:57 of the first frame.
Bright, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, scored 15 points on 4-7 shooting and dished four assists in the Cardinal's winning effort. Freshman Chasson Randle (15 points) and Anthony Brown (11 points) also scored in double figures for Johnny Dawkins' team.
Rodney Williams led the way for the Gophers with 12 points, but once again struggled with foul trouble before ultimately fouling out with 5:02 left. Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman each contributed 10 points.
More, below the fold.
After a thrilling overtime victory over the Washington Huskies on Tuesday, Minnesota was unable to find the same cohesiveness against Stanford. The Gophers shot just 36.5% from the field, turned it over a shrieking 22 times, and looked uncomfortable on the offensive end all night.
From the start, the pace of the game was extremely quick. There was seemingly no half-court offensive sets in the first ten minutes, as the officials allowed the players to play physically.
After forcing Minnesota into a morale-killing drought, the Cardinal led by six points at halftime. With such a poor field goal percentage, it was perceived that Minnesota was lucky to be in such a close position.
Then the second half started - and all hope was gone. The Gophers' time lapse without a made basket lasted until 16:09 left in the second half, ending just under 13 minutes of misery.
"We didn't do a good job in taking care of the ball," mentioned Tubby Smith after the game. "We had some opportunities, but when you miss shots like that you get a little frustrated and discouraged."
Stanford's Aaron Bright played well in their win over UMass on Tuesday, but he looked like a completely different player in the NIT championship. After the guard converted a momentum-swinging 4-point play late in the first half, the Cardinal never looked back.
"Personally, it got me going," Bright said. "After that shot went in and I made the free throw, I felt very comfortable. We were locked in tonight."
Stanford got off to a slow offensive start, but ended the game with a field goal percentage at 50%. They certainly benefited from the pace change following the opening minutes.
After watching both teams twice this week at Madison Square Garden, it can easily be concluded that the future is bright for both programs. The Cardinal and the Gophers will each use the momentum built in the NIT and carry it into next season.
"We have some pretty good players and a great group of kids that do the right things," Smith remarked. "They're as competitive as any group that I've coached. We have them all coming back - that's good too."
"I am really proud of our guys," said Dawkins. "This season has been a roller coaster for us. Our kids saved the best for last. This team has really grown up this year."
Stanford was the team raising the trophy and cutting down the nets on Thursday, but the runner-up has nothing to hang their heads about. No one expected the Gophers to make a run deep into March after losing seven of eight in February.
"It's hard to lose like this," said Andre Hollins, who struggled mightily after Tuesday's 20-point performance. "But we'd be foolish to go into next season thinking about this one game. This tournament has helped us a lot."
This championship was Stanford's first NIT title since 1991, and the second in its program's history.