It wasn't always pretty. And it wasn't dominating. But the Gophers won their first road test of the season Monday night in Philadelphia, beating St. Joseph's 83-73. Trevor Mbakwe led the Gophers with 12 points and 16 rebounds. He was the difference maker for this team again.
The Gophers led throughout, but couldn't put St. Joes away until the final minutes. Offense wasn't an issue, as the Gophers shot 48 percent from the floor and 47 percent from three. Devoe Joseph finished with 19 points. Mbakwe, Blake Hoffarber, Ralph Sampson III and Maurice Walker all had double-digit points.
Defensively, however, the Gophers continued to have their struggles. Things weren't as bad as they were against Virginia, but St. Joes helped out by shooting poorly from the floor. Minnesota's man defense left a lot to be desired. The Gophers forced more difficult shots for some stretches when they played their 2-3 zone. In the first half, after St. Joes got out to a small early lead, Tubby went to the second five and began playing the extended 2/3 zone that worked well for the Gophers in Puerto Rico. The Gophers were able to contest most outside shots. Perhaps most importantly, for the second five that includes Colton Iverson and Maurice Walker, their lack of speed couldn't be exploited. When the Gophers have played man defense with those two on the court together, opposing teams have been able to pull them away from the basket and penetrate.
But there were other positive signs for Minnesota. Walker continues to improve. His 10 points and 5 rebounds in 15 minutes were impactful. The big man from Ontario seems to be improving each game. And he seems to have a good understanding of the game. When he catches the ball in the paint, he's able to make a move or pass out of the post. Aside from Mbakwe, Walker was Minnesota's best big man against St. Joes.
And the Gophers were able to use its size advantage well. The Gophers outrebounded the Hawks 40-33. Mbakwe, Sampson and Walker all got close inside looks. And other than Sampson's 5 turnovers in the post, the Gophers did well to run their offense through the post.
From here, Minnesota's non-conference schedule lightens with home games against Eastern Kentucky, Akron and South Dakota State. And then the Big Ten slate starts with tough road games in Madison and East Lansing. Hopefully the Gophers can iron out the kinks on defense--and get Nolen back--before the Dec. 28th tilt in Madison.
A few more thoughts after the jump.
What Was Fun
Phil Martelli: It was fun watching him throw his jacket into the stands during a stretch when he, justifiably, had issues with the refereeing.
Mo Walker: I feel the need to single him out again. His minutes tonight were great.
Maverick Ahanmisi: As St. Joes pulled to withing 5 in the second half, Tubby removed Joseph and Sampson from the starting 5 with Mav and Mo. The offense immediately began playing better. The team ran offensive sets during each possession, took good shots and extended the lead.
Trevor Mbakwe: Ho-hum. Another double-double.
3 point shooting: Both Hoffarber and Joseph were 4-6 from three. We'll take that every game.
What Wasn't Fun
Rodney Williams: The sophomore wing didn't stand out in any way. He lost minutes over the course of the game to Austin Hollins. St. Joes scouting report clearly told them to back off of Rodney on the perimeter and let him shoot. Williams finished with 2 points, on what was actually a clutch second half short jumper. He played just 8 minutes. Hollins played 29 minutes.
RS3: He played better in the second half, but the junior big man seems to be in a serious slump. He's never looked overly confident, but he looks more tentative now than he has. His running hook takes far too long to develop and opposing teams know it's coming.
Colton: He's as baffling as Sampson. One game Iverson is a monster. The next game Iverson disappears. Against St. Joes, Iverson disappeared. He didn't score in 10 minutes.
Television: Thank goodness for free online streams, but c'mon, this is the Big Ten against the Atlantic Ten and we don't televise on the Big Ten Network or even ESPN3?