For the first time in his career, Damian Johnson took over a game offensively. He scored a career-high 21 points in myriad ways. He hit turnaround jumpers. He drove and scored. He cleaned up rebounds, scored in transition and shot 10-15 from the field.
I seem to lead ever game review with Johnson, and it might seem redundant, but he again deserves praise. He added 6 reboudns, 5 blocks, a steal and only one turnover in 31 minutes.
He was the obvious highlight in Minnesota's 74-60 win Wednesday night against South Dakota State in a game that serves as the last warm-up before the Gophers head to Arizona on Dec. 20 to face Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals. And in the first five minutes of the game, the Gophers played as they need to in order to beat Louisville.
The Gophers jumped out to a quick 11-0 lead against the Jackrabbits with a starting lineup that inclided both "Twin Towers" in Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III. The two freshman big men played on the floor for continued minutes together for the first timet his season. Sampson had 10 points, four blocks and three rebounds. Iverson added 4 points and 4 blocks of his own.
They were allowed to team up together in because senior Jonathan Williams made his season debut. Looking rusty at times, Williams played just sevent minutes. He doesn't need to lead this team this season, but he can be an effective big man on both ends of the floor, and his ability allows Iverson and Sampson to be on the floor at the same time and allow Johnson to slide over to small forward--this probably being the largest reason why he was able to seek his own offense more often.
As has been the norm, Minnesota allowed SDSU back in the game during the second half but eventually pulled away again. If I had one complaint in this otherwise yawner, it is that the Gophers haven't yet developed a killer instinct. When a team is down 15, they need to go down 30. Eventually the Gophers will lose a game they should win if this continues.
Other thoughts in bullet-point format.
- Lawrence Westbrook continues to come off the bench. And if this is for strategic reasons, I'm beginning to like it. The starting lineup was Nolen, Iverson, Johnson, Sampson and Abu-Shamala (who will likely be replaced by Blake Hoffarber). Bringing Westbrook in off the bench has plenty of advantages. First, he's the one Gopher who can create his own shot routinely. So, Nolen can spend the first few minutes of a game getting everyone else involved. If Westbrook doesn't mind, this seems to work great. He ended up playing 24 important minutes anyway.
- Al Nolen had 11 assists and 8 points. He was as good as he's been all season at taking the ball to the rim and delivering an on-target pass at the most precise moment. Nolen played great Wednesday.
- Travis Busch played 13 minutes and I thought he was effective on the floor. He was 3-5 from the floor, grabbed 3 rebounds--2 offensive--and played his role well.
- MInnesot'a second half slowdown was in part because of the defense. We held SDSU to 33 percent shooting in the first half (8-24) as compared to 42 percent in the second half.
- Minnesota had 24 assists and 12 turnovers. SDSU turned the ball over 20 times. Those will be interesting numbers to look at after the Louisville game.
- In limited minutes (8), I thought Devron Bostick looked more confident than he has on the floor. He scored 4 points (2-3) and made two assists in just a few minutes. Should be looked at as a confidence building type of game for the JUCO guard.
Note: Apologies for getting this up late. This was a very big day for me professionally. And it was SDSU after all!