Minnesota used a trio of great individual performances along with outstanding team defense to notch a 17-point road win over a ranked Big Ten opponent.
Trevor Mbakwe was the first to get the team jumpstarted after a slow start. "In-n-Out" came back after a brief break and scored 8 straight Gopher points to turn back an early Illini run. He ended with 19 points and 11 rebounds as he started to look more and more like the Trevor Mbakwe we remember. But despite having his best game of the year, it wasn't even the most impressive one on the floor.
Andre Hollins has had big games this season and today was big but it was more of a complete game than anything else. This was the third time he hit 22 points this season but this time he added 8 rebounds and 6 assists while committing just 2 turnovers and didn't miss a free throw in 31 minutes. But even with his acrobatic, shot-clock expiring, bank-shot three it wasn't the best performance of the night.
That distinction belongs to Joe Coleman who had a career night and stole the show. Coleman's 29 points came from everywhere on the floor including making 2/3 from three. It was Joe's breakaway dunk that ended the big Illini run that cut the game to 2 and sparked a Gopher run that bumped the lead back up to 9 and we cruised from that point.
Three outstanding individual performances but one could argue that none of them, including Coleman, was the story of the night. The gopher defense came ready to a face a major perimeter challenge. Illinois is a dangerous shooting team that can bury teams with their guards who are as good shooting the three as they are at getting buy defenders and scoring in the lane. But the Gopher defense was up to the task tonight holding Illinois to 3/24 shooting from behind the arc. That is 12.5%! The backcourt combined for 49 of the team's 67 points but it took a lot of attempts to get to that total.
This was a difficult road test that the Gophers passed. Illinois is one of the toughest venues in the conference. It is lout and it is always a hostile crowd. A win was going to be nice, but a 17-point margin is a huge boost to the resume. But no time to pat ourselves on the back, an even greater test awaits in Bloomington on Saturday. #5 Indiana will be anxious to send a message that we don't belong at the top and the Gophers should be walking into another hostile environment.