Minnesota returned home after a thrilling win against Michigan and managed to do just enough to defeat Texas A&M Corpus Christi 79-71. The game was a tale of two halves, one of which was good, and one which was a train wreck. Fortunately, the train wreck did not do enough to force an upset. Payton Willis led all Minnesota scorers with 17.
As I have said in writing on this blog for nearly a decade, a non-conference game is a success if the Gophers win and no one gets injured. By this bar, tonight’s game was a smashing success. Ignore the the 28(!) turnovers. Pay no attention to a -22 turnover differential. Do not fret that a 26 point lead early in the second half evaporated to single digits in just six minutes of some of the worst basketball I have watched in years.
Focus on the positives. For one, the team is now a trivia question.
Tonight @GopherMBB beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 79-71 despite having a -22 turnover margin (28-6).— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) December 15, 2021
They're the first Division I team to win a game with a turnover margin of -22 or worse since UAB did so on November 28, 1997, against Southwestern Louisiana (-22).
The other positives for the night are more useful going forward. Minnesota was 11-21 from distance, made 18 of their 23 free throws, won the game, and no one was injured. As a team, the Gophers out-rebounded a smaller team 42-23. The Gophers had 23 assists, which normally would be imply an excellent assist to turnover ratio.
Eleven different Gophers played, proving that the guys in warm up jerseys are actually part of the team instead of an elaborate practical joke. Will any of the low minute performers see any real game action in the Big Ten? Highly unlikely! Is it good that they are able to play competitive minutes against non-conference competition. Yes it is! Am I really scraping the barrel for positivity after a nightmare of errors in the second half? Most definitely!
Here then is a good measure of where the team is at. They have the capability to play mistake free basketball and compete with more talented teams. When coming up against less talented teams, and TACC is substantially less talented than the Gophers, they can use their talent to eke out a win. If Minnesota plays anything like the second half against Big Ten competition, they will lose by 30. I am not going to say that the team started looking ahead to the end of the game when the lead ballooned to 26 points early in the second half. I am going to think it just a little bit. That is why, to put on my GopherNation impression for a second, the proper fan reaction should be to have no expectation for this season. Every win is a good win.
Payton Willis continues to be a scoring threat from deep, and in a Marcus Carr-esque 35 minute performance finished 5-6 from distance.
The Islanders have some sweet jerseys, and I had to check every single spelling of Christi in this article to confirm I spelled the word correctly. I am still not positive I am correct. TACC practices an aggressive heavy pressure style of defense. For extended portions of the second half, I was more than a little confused why the Gophers were not just going for back cuts and free layups. I think that the answer has a lot to do with the angle of television cameras, and not because Ben Johnson is unaware of basic basketball strategy.
The tough defense was also rather physical, especially the guard pressure. Color me skeptical that a similar strategy would fly for very long with Big Ten refs on the floor. That said, the physicality is a good test for a non-conference opponent. There are a lot of teachable moments on film now.