Category Archives: Damian Johnson

Damian Johnson led Gophers win in near record breaker

Bouncing back from a loss against Florida State in which the seniors failed to make a difference, Damian Johnson and the rest of the underclassman once again had to pick up the slack as the Gophers trounced lowly UC-Riverside. Giving up their second lowest point total ever, the Gophers won 75-38. In a season full of pre-conference cupcakes, the Highlanders (whose mascot is a bear for some reason) are the worst so far.

Damian Johnson had his best game as a Gopher. In my preview of yesterday’s game, I mentioned the all Johnson needs to work on is his shooting, particularly near the basket. Johnson did just that making all five of his field goal attempts and finishing with 12 points. As he has become accustomed to doing, he filled the rest of the stat sheet as well, with 7 rebounds, three blocks, three steals, and countless altered shots and deflections.

The loss to Florida State gave the Gophers plenty to work on, and the Highlanders gave the Gophers a perfect punching bag. As a team, the Gophers continued their trade mark defensive pressure, forcing 21 turnovers while only giving up 14 field goals. On the offensive end, the horrendous shooting against Florida State did not lead to a hangover. Minnesota started hot stayed hit. They were shot 53% from the free throw line and shot 47% from the field for the game. They continued their dominance on the offensive glass, and were +10 overall in rebounding. Most importantly, the Gophers were active on offense and moved the ball well, recording 21 assists on their 25 assists, including 6 by Kevin Payton in 9 minutes. In previous games the Gophers assist to field goal ratio was often 2:1 in the wrong direction.

Despite the lopsided score, there is still more to improve upon. Even facing a team as bad as, the Gophers gave up 13 turnovers, almost all of them unforced. However, the real concerns continue to involve individuals. The season that began with assumptions of a senior led team without much help has quickly become the season of the underclassman, with real questions swirling around the senior. While Lawrence McKenzie returned to form, Dan Coleman continues to play tentatively, and Spencer Tollackson struggled again from the floor.

Dan Coleman has an NBA body, and has shown flashes of NBA potential in the past. An athletic 6-9 forward with a decent outside shot should at the very least have solid games against inferior competition. Instead, Coleman had what may have been his worst game of the season. PJS asks if the Gopher forward is in Tubby’s dog house. If he isn’t, he should be He picked up two quick fouls and scored only six points. Limited minutes, and therefore limited stats due to foul trouble happen occasionally, and aren’t too troubling. My concern with Coleman continues to be how he plays the game. Coleman can’t seem to make up his mind when he gets the ball. Once he starts to make a move, he can’t seem to decide where to go. Nearly every movement he makes appears to be the product of an excruciatingly difficult decision. The athletic advantage that he often has is completely neutralized. While some has criticized his effort, I think the real issue is that he just has too many other things on his mind. He has already graduated, and may be focusing on the rest of his life. The world would be a better place if more college athletes realized there is more to life than shoe contracts and million dollar houses, but this doesn’t make watching Coleman play any less agonizing.

Spencer Tollackson also had a difficult game. He continues to have problems getting into position on the block, leading to lots of spinning and flailing shots that are just out of his range. He also made a few mental errors including at least two blind cross court passes that landed in the crowd. On each occasion, Tubby Smith gave Spencer plenty of time to think about what he had done. After benching his seniors against Florida State, it should come as no surprise that Tubby would bench a senior in a blow out. Despite a less than stellar game, Tollackson continues to show the admirable effort he is known for.

Who did what:

  • Dan Coleman continued to struggle. Even though he is a senior, he may be at risk of losing playing time to Damian Johnson.
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala had his best shooting game of the season, hitting 3-6 from behind the three point line for 11 points and 4 rebounds.
  • Spencer Tollackson scored a hard-earned 10 points but was only 4-10 from the floor.
  • Lawrence Westbrook struggled, making only 1 of 4 shots. His early season progress appears to have been an aberration.
  • Lawrence McKenzie is back to making threes. He led the team in scoring with 18 points, 15 from behind the arc.
  • Kevin Payton still refuses to shoot, but at least this time his passes went where they were supposed to go. Six assists in 9 minutes with no shots points, rebounds, blocks, or steals.
  • Jonathan Williams had 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and not much else.
  • Al Nolen continued to be a steady presence in the back court with 4 assists and one turnover.
  • Blake Hoffarber had another good game, and showed that he can get his shot off in a hurry from just about anywhere. He had 13 points on 4 threes along with 4 steals.
  • Damian Johnson is Trevarus Bennet 2.o.
  • Ryan Saunders should be on Project Runway
  • Tubby Smith was riled up, and wasn’t afraid to yell at the ref’s or his team. At least for a day he abandoned the glare and told his players what they needed to do and how to do it.
  • The Barnyard returned in force, especially for a snowy day against a weak team. Does any one have a hard hat they want to give away? Its been 10 years since the hard hat guys occupied the student section. I may never carry Bobby Jackson around the court, but I do want to bring their spirit back to the barn.
  • The rest of crowd wasn’t bad either. It was nothing like the good old days, but given the horrible driving conditions and the even worse win walking to The Barn, anyone that made it to the game deserves a pat on the back.
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Seniors don’t show up as Gophers lose to FSU

The Gophers knew they were going to need a nearly flawless game to beat Florida State, and the combination of bad fouls, bad shooting, and bad seniors were far from flawless. FSU won 75-61, and the ACC is on its way to winning another Big 10-ACC challenge.

For the first ten minutes of the game, both teams relentlessly pushed the ball up and down the court. Even though this style should have benefited the Seminoles, the Gophers hung around, and even led for a short time. As if someone hit a switch, the game slowed dramatically and the Gophers were unable to execute the half court offense.

While the long scoring droughts were reminiscent of last year, the Gophers remained active on offense, but simply couldn’t make shots. Like last game, the Gophers took dramatically more shots than their opponents. Florida State was 22-52 while Minnesota shot  24-71 as the Gophers pulled down 19 offensive rebounds. Despite most of the offensive rebounds being secured inches from the basket, Minnesota just couldn’t make their layups. Seemingly every possession featured Dan Coleman and Damian Johnson missing gimme after gimme.

Most of Florida State’s gimmes were at the free throw line, and they took advantage by shooting 27-32 compared to 6-10 for the Gophers. The Gophers once again showed a propensity to commit unnecessary fouls, many of them due to their lack of quickness and athleticism against Florida State’s line-up. In my preview for this game I mentioned that quickness could be a concern, and it turned out to be the deciding factor in the game.

You may have noticed that I have barely mentioned the “big three” for the Gophers, and this is for good reason. There just isn’t that much to write about. Spencer Tollackson displayed admirable effort on the boards, but was simply too slow to make much impact on offense or defense. Florida State forced the Gophers to set up the offense far out on the floor, and many times it was necessary for Tollackson to free up the ball handler with a screen, making it difficult to position himself down low. Other times the Gopher guards didn’t have an angle to pass it into the post. Dan Coleman was once again a liability on both ends of the floor, refusing to play aggressive offense and committing fouls or simply being out of position on defense. Lawrence McKenzie had a cold shooting night, and demonstrated that he has not completely abandoned the selfish decision making of last year. When any team’s three best players all have their worst game of the season on the same night, they won’t win many games.

There is definitely some silver lining to this disappointing loss. Despite quickly falling behind 8-0 the Gophers kept playing, and quickly made up the deficit. Much of the comeback was due to the sharp play of the second team (I believe tonight was the 5th or 6th line change this season by Tubby Smith). Damian Johnson continues to play better than anyone expected, and Blake Hoffarber played his best game of the season.

The last few years, this type of loss would send the Gophers on downward spiral often resulting in a season killing losing streak. We should be able to tell just how far this team has come when they play on Saturday. No one expects this team to win 30 games, but to come close to 20 wins, they will need to learn from their mistakes and execute better each game. Tubby shouldn’t have any problem finding teachable moments from tonight’s loss.

Who Did What?

  • Dan Coleman was bad. Towards the end of the game he finally started playing aggressively for the first time this season, and made some open lay ups. If I was 6’9″ I’d be content dunking on people, not shooting floaters and fade-aways.
  • Spencer Tollackson showed that the classic Big 10 big man isn’t meant for the ACC.
  • Al Nolen started and looked shaky in the first few minutes of the game. He eventually calmed down and had three assists to go along with three early turnovers. Even though this was his most freshman-like game, he still hasn’t had more turnover than assists in a game.
  • Lawrence McKenzie needed an Iowa State type game. Instead we got Lawrence vs Army instead.
  • Kevin Payton- No points, no rebounds, one assist, two turnovers: quite average for him actually.
  •  Jonathan Williams had 4 points and a huge block in limited work. He was another victim of Florida States athleticism.
  • Blake Hoffarber played his best game of his career by far. He finished with 12 points to lead the team on 5-9 shooting. He had three turnovers, but that is not a bad trade off considering he was the only Gopher to consistently make open shots.
  • Lawrence Westbrook played great in the first half, and not so great in the second half. Despite being the shortest man on the floor, he pulled down six rebounds, three of them offensive. I still can’t believe Dan Monson couldn’t find some use for him.
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala played as he has every game this season. A decent game for a spot shooter off the bench, and now that he officially is a spot shooter off the bench, I can’t complain.
  • Damian Johnson showed that he could be much better if he could just finish after grabbing an offensive rebound. Still, considering what many were expecting from his this season, no complaints.

The “other” seven beat Army

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.