If Damian Johnson hadn't come back for the Golden Gophers men's basketball team's first road game, Tubby Smith's 2008-09 season would have started with a 3-1 mark.
Fortunately for the Gophers, Johnson came back and did what we grew accustomed to what Johnson does. He provided energy. He was on the floor for loose balls. And when the Gophers found themselves in a nip and tuck game in the final seconds, Johnson unselfishly found Paul Carter under the basket for a game-winning assist with 21 seconds left. And for good measure, Johnson blocked a Colorado State shot that could have won the game seconds later.
Minnesota 72, Colorado State 71. Thank you Damian Johnson.
It was a fantastic game really. The CSU crowd was behind a vastly improved CSU team. It had the feel of a road conference game during crunch time during the final few minutes. And it wasn't always pretty, but the Gophers did what a young team needs to do to gain confidence: win a close game on the road that perhaps they didn't deserve to.
Minnesota native Dan Vandervieren had 15 points and 8 rebounds and was way too much to handle for Ralph Sampson III, or any Minnesota big man really. The Rams' transfer from Ole Miss, .Andy Ogide, might have been the best player on the floor during stretches of the game. He finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. The combination of Vandervieren and Ogide--a banger and an athletic big--exposed a tremendous weakness for the Gophers.
Minnesota started off the game ice cold. The team was firing off three pointers left and right. Our guards weren't penetrating. We were a jump shooting team and CSU quickly ran out to a double-digit first half lead. The Gophers were able to trim that a at the end of the first half and took an early second half lead by playing full-court pressure with a small-ball lineup. A lineup that had both Carter and Johnson on the floor at the same time--sacrificing size for speed and athleticism--was Minnesota's key to getting back into the game.
But it was Blake Hoffarber who single-handedly kept Minnesota close in the first half. He finished the game with a team-high 20 points, shot a red-hot 5-8 from three and did most of that damage in the first half.
Mostly because of the high-pressure defense that forced 20 turnovers, the Gophers built a 6 point second half lead with just a few minutes to play. But at that point Tubby mysteriously pulled off the Minnesota pressure. The only explanation I could come up with was that CSU was in the double-bonus. But the minute Tubby took off the pressure, CSU calmed down. They got the ball back inside to Ogide and eventually took a 70-69 lead before Johnson found Carter for the game winner.
General Positive Thoughts:
- For the first time, Carter lt the game come to him. He had eight points on 4-7 shooting, and I'd be all of his makes were layups. He also crashed the offensive boards.
- Speaking of rebounds, the Gophers were superior on the boards with the small ball lineup. The Gophers eventually outrebounded CSU 38-36. We probably don't win that game without 19 offensive rebounds.
- Al Nolen played 37 minutes. He looked for his shot often and hit a clutch three at the end of the game. He was 6-14 from the field and 2-6 from beyond the arc. I was glad to see him shoot often. He also played his typically aggressive defense.
- The Gophers won this game with only 21 minutes on the floor from real forwards/centers. Colton Iverson played 11 minutes before fouling out. RSIII played 10. We outrebounded a team who was superior inside without a real forward/center on the floor.
- We scored 27 points off of turnovers. Another reason why calling off the press didn't make sense to me.
General Negative Thoughts
- Lawrence Westbrook forced his shots early and often and must have found himself in the Tubby doghouse. He played 18 minutes and shot 3-11 from the field and 0-4 from three. Not a pretty game for Westbrook, who forced quite a few shots from the outside and even when he was penetrating.
- Turnovers. We committed 17 turnovers against a CSU team that wasn't really forcing them. Unforced errors led to CSU's big first half lead.
- Devron Bostick played one minute.
- RSIII had the ball in the post twice and both times threw up shots that richocheted hard off of the backboard. He's not ready but I'm intrigued to watch him grow.
- Travis Busch played the third most minutes on the team after Nolen (37) and Hoffarber (30) Busch played 23. I don't think the Gophers win a lot of Big Ten games if Busch has to play this extensively.