It wasn't pretty. And the Gophers again didn't look like a Top 25 team. But Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and Al Nolen did just enough Tuesday night to lead Minnesota to its first Big Ten win of the season.
After dropping road games to Wisconsin and Michigan State, winning at home against Indiana was a must for the team's hopes of a successful season. After the news broke in the last two days that junior guard Devoe Joseph is leaning towards transferring after being suspended for a second time, a win was needed for morale. The Gophers were able to get that done, thanks to a second-half flurry where the Gophers played with defensive intensity.
Mbakwe led the Gophers with an 11-16 double-double in the junior's first game against former coach Tom Crean. Mbakwe was occasionally dominant. During the second-half spurt, Williams showed Minnesota fans why scouts believe he's the most talented player in the BIg Ten. He finished with 10 points and 4 rebounds. An Nolen, picking up the slack with Joseph gone / out, took the game into his own hands during various stretches, playing solid defense and taking the ball to the rim. He finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. That's the type of Nolen stat line we've come to love.
But once again things weren't easy for Minnesota. The Gophers sputtered during a first half that saw Indiana take a 6 point half-time lead. During the opening frame, the Gophers were complacent. They weren't contesting shots. Their defense was beyond suspect. And outside of an early stretch where Mbakwe dominated the interior, the Gophers couldn't put together any semblance of a consistent offense.
Credit Indiana for coming ready to play. Victor Oladipo was particularly impressive. He finished with 13 points to lead the Hoosiers, most from the line where he went 7-8.
Observations after the jump.Here are a few things that stuck out to me.
Ralph Sampson III: Once again, RSIII played without any passion. I've never been inclined to take not of his dour expressions to make critiques of his game. But Sampson again played incredibly soft. He had the ball ripped loose from him in the paint on a few possessions. His only post move was (always has been I guess) a slow-developing hook shot. And Sampson managed just 3 rebounds. It might be time to let Colton Iverson crack the starting lineup. Iverson played 12 minutes and finished with 4 points and 3 rebounds. Sampson played 32 minutes and finished with 4 points and 3 rebounds. Free Colton!!!
Dominque Dawson: Tubby Smith decided that no matter what players are dressed, the Gophers will always play 10 men. How else can we explain the first half action for Dominique Dawson? He played just two minutes in the first half, but it was surprising to see him on the floor considering how little he's played as a walk-on in the past couple years.
Playing without Devoe: Many asked who would get the most playing time to eat up Joseph's minutes. We all assumed it would be Chip Armelin or Austin Hollins. But on this night it was Maverick Ahanmisi. Mav played fairly well, hitting a couple clutch 3s late in the first half. He finished with 16 minutes. Hollins played 11. Chip played 7.
Austin Hollins: The freshman is beginning to look a bit over-matched. He's tentative with the ball in his hands, turning the ball over twice in 11 minutes. He doesn't seem able to get his own shot.
Turnovers: The Gophers are turning the ball over far too often, 12 times last night against the Hoosiers.
Perimeter Defense: For one night anyway, the perimeter defense was OK. The Gophers held Indiana to 7-20 beyond the arc. But during a couple stretches, the Gophers didn't contest three point shots when they could have.
Up next: The Gophers have yet another tough road test, this time Saturday at Ohio State. The Buckeyes struggled a bit last night at Iowa. If there's ever a time for the Gophers to put together 40 minutes on the road, this would be the time. I'm very much looking forward to seeing Mbakwe battle with Jared Sullinger. More than anything I want to see how Sullinger handles a physical and athletic power forward.