Damian Johnson had every right to play determined basketball Thursday night in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. Completely and utterly slighted by the Big Ten coaches, who should be ashamed for not putting Johnson on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team, Johnson led the Gophers to a convincing 76-55 win over Penn State, a team also known as the supposed team "no one wants to play."
Talor Battle, slowed a bit by an ankle injury, was mostly shut down by Lawrence Westbrook, another MInnesota senior that was shunned by Big Ten coaches for any All Big Ten honors. Interestingly, Westbrook played what might have been his best game as a Gopher. He didn't force offense at all. He didn't score until the second half, but all the while he wasn't turning the ball over and he was focused on frustrating Battle. In the second half, Westbrook's offense came to him and he put up a quick 10 points.
Defensively, the Gophers were either really good, or the Nittany Lions were disinterested on offense. At times, I think it was both. The Nittany Lions looked relatively uninspired, a look Minnesota had itself just last week against Michigan. Battle, Chris Babb, David Jackson and Andrew Jones III all had 10 points to pace Penn State.
The win sets up a Big Ten Quarterfinal tilt this evening against 3-seed Michigan State. The Spartans have owned Tubby Smith and the Gophers for the last three seasons winning each and every meeting. The Gophers blew a big second half lead earlier this year at home against MIchigan State. Perhaps the feeling from that loss, combined with the entire team feeling slighted for not having one of its members named to an All Big Ten Team, will propel the Gophers to an upset tonight.
Do that and the Gophers just might get the respect that the Gophers asked for by wearing white t-shirts before the Penn State game that had "respect" written on them.
Win, and the Gophers just might pump a little bit of life into its NCAA Tournament chances.