For the Gophers to win significantly more games this season, Lawrence McKenzie, Dan Coleman, and Spencer Tollackson will need to provide solid leadership, and against most opponents, score a combined 4o points. However, even in the offense starved Big 10, it is almost impossible to win a game scoring less than 50 points, as the Gophers found out time and time again a year ago.
What a difference a year makes. In the first official game of the season, the Gophers won big, while the big three played only a minor role. Spencer Tollackson scored six points on six shots, Lawrence McKenzie played solid defense but was zero for everything from the floor, and Dan Coleman, still pretending to be an over sized guard in the David Grim mold, led the team with 16 points. The big three combines for 24 points on 9-24 shooting, and the Gopher win by 32 points. How could this be? Quite simply, this year’s Gophers have already found their identity, and it isn’t slow, selfish, and poorly coached.
In all my year’s of watching Gopher basketball, I don’t remember the Gophers forcing a 5 second closely guarded call and a 10 second violation on consecutive plays. I don’t remember 4 non-walk-on players hitting the floor for a loose ball with game decided, and I don’t remember a player coming out of nowhere to impact a game quite like Damian Johnson did today.
Damian Johnson is tall, has long arms, and can jump. However, until today, the rest of his skills remained largely mysterious. In the first exhibition game he had three blocks, two on jump shots, but looked lost on offense. The second exhibition game was a foul-plagued efforts that was largely forgettable. Today, he played like a man possessed, filling every column on the scoring sheet in impressive fashion. Twelve points, including two three pointers, eight rebounds including four offensive, four blocks, four steals, and only one turnover. All this in only 20 minutes. If he keeps this up, and continues to improve, he may one day be compared to Travarus Bennett. With the emergence of Al Nolen and Johnson, two of the big question marks on this year’s Gophers are a lot less worrisome.
Who did what?
- Spencer Tollackson really wants to be the Gopher quarterback, and his five turnovers today would qualify him to play next year if he had any eligibility left. Hey Spencer, no more 70 foot passes this season, please?
- Dan Coleman led the team in scoring and had seven rebounds. However, he needs to find a mean streak and cut down on ticky-tack fouls.
- Lawrence Westbrook played impressive, hard nosed, get inside your head defense, forcing a five second violation on pure hustle.
- Lawrence McKenzie was healthy enough to play, but it looked like his groin injury is still affecting his shooting. Unlike last year, he was able to play an important role in the game despite limited offensive statistics. His defense combined with the other Lawrence helped force 25 Army turnovers.
- Kevin Payton started at “forward” but reverted to his role as a largely ineffective point guard. He remains on a short leash, and after today may have lost his starting spot. Four points and three assists just isn’t enough for a starting point guard with few other skills.
- Al Nolen remains impressive, leading the team in assists, playing solid defense, and scoring nine points. I know he is just a freshman who played against more current D-I players in high school than he has so far in his college career, but he is the best true point guard on the team, and he deserves to be on the court more.
- Blake Hoffarber played his best game so far. He was only 2-6 from the three point line, but all the shots were in rhythm and in the flow of the offense. He wasn’t a liability on defense and worked his tail off. You can’t ask much more from a freshman. If he keeps playing like he did today the shots will start to fall.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala scored seven points, didn’t shoot particularly well, and didn’t impact the game.
- Damian Johnson had the game of his life.
- Jonathan Williams played hard, aggressive, and of all things, agile. His dipsy-doo baby sweeping hook off the glass was stellar. His rebound total was low (only one) but so was his foul total (two). If he can stay on the court as long as Tubby wants him to, he will be a valuable asset. Any 6’9″ player that can get eight points off the bench is more than the Gophers expected going into this season.
- Congratulations Travis Busch, you are the last player off the bench, but you also scored, along with everyone else. You also have an easy name to chant. We will make sure you get your minutes when the game is all but over.
- Ryan Saunders sported a pink shirt and purple tie, and more hair gel than usual. Under the right conditions, he might burst into flames.
The Tubby Smith Era has officially begun with an impressive win. Yes, it was against Army, but the Gophers didn’t beat anyone this impressively last season.
And now, a special feature…mediocre photos from before today’s game taken by a mediocre photographer (me) with an even worse camera.