Minnesota beat High Point in the opening round of the NIT Tournament 88-81. The Gophers used a bruising inside game to take control of a game that was never in doubt, but certainly closer than it should have been. Maverick Ahanmisi stepped in for an injured Deandre Mathieu and led the Gophers with 21 points. Based on the game thread, there is a reasonably good chance you didn't watch it because ESPN3 is the worst. The Four Factors are below:
As can be seen the Gophers won three of the four factors. Most notable is the turnover percentage. As a reminder turnover percentage is the percentage of possessions that end in a turnover. This was the first game all season that Minnesota had a TO% under 10. The Gophers did not have a turnover for the first 25 minutes of the game. Some of that was due to High Point's defense not being especially good. Nonetheless, it is an excellent sign that it is in fact possible for the Gophers to play mistake free basketball. To a degree, the OR% is concerning because of the size disparity between the two teams. Minnesota probably should have gotten more offensive rebounds.
Maverick Ahanmisi was deputized into service sometime in the middle of the first half. Deandre Mathieu reaggravated a lower body injury and was held out as a precaution. Ahanmisi responded with his best game of the season. His 21 points came on 6-11 shooting (1-5 from 3pt) and 8-10 free throw shooting. Several times during the game he made a smart, aggressive drive to the basket for an easy lay up. Pitino has mentioned that one of his regrets for the season was not being able to play Ahanmisi more, and yesterday was a good example of the kind of game where Ahanmisi could have thrived.
If Ahanmisi's performance was the most surprising part of the game, Mo Walker's was the least. Walker was more or less unguardable down low as there was no High Point player physically able to bang with him in the post. Undoubtably, when the Gophers look at the tape they will see multiple additional opportunities where they could have and should have fed him the ball. He finished with 13 points, 4 rebounds (2 ORB), 2 assists, a steal and a block.
Joey King played 31 minutes of solid basketball and even played center when the Gophers went small to counteract High Point's guard heavy attack. King had 14 points on 4-6 shooting (2-2 from 3pt), led the team in rebounds with 7 and added 3 assists. In the last few games, King has become more confident in taking threes when he has an opening. If the NIT can be a teachable opportunity, let's hope that sinks in.
Daquien McNeil had a two minute stretch of impeccable defense in the second half when High Point made a late run. I've been impressed all year with the freshman's defensive play and yesterday provided several great examples. He had two key steals and drew a foul on John Brown to end any momentum that High Point had. McNeil also added 7 points and 2 rebounds.
The Hollinses played 72 combined minutes but had an off night. They finished with 21 points combined on 5-16 shooting. Andre Hollins was able to get to the free throw line on four separate occasions and continued to look more mobile.
High Point's John Brown is a fun player to watch. He had two highlight reel dunks, one of which (as I noted on twitter. Shameless plug) caused me to say "Oh shit" out loud.
The Gophers next play St. Mary's on Sunday. Joe Coleman is redshirting for the Gales, so expect to read way too many story lines about that.