Last year the Gophers would have lost this game. At any point during the Dan Monson era, the Gopher’s could have lost this game. But it is a new year with a new coach and new toughness, and the Gophers are 2-0 already with a road win under their belts.
The final score, 68-58, was not indicative of how close the game actually was, or maybe after watching so many seemingly unloseable turn into disasters, it only seemed excruciatingly close.
The seniors, specifically Spencer Tollackson and Lawrence McKenzie, led the way. While Iowa State fab freshman Craig Brackins was putting up career numbers, Tollackson in his now familiar agile but slightly awkward swirling style, kept pace. Iowa State was helpless when Tollackson got the ball inside. Jamal Abu-Shamala was able to exploit an attempt at fronting Tollackson with a soft lob pass over the defense that led to a wide open layup. In the second half, it was all McKenzie. He did not start, but was able to run the floor and play solid defense. However, he still had not found his outside shot, most likely due to missing several practices due to a lingering groin injury. In the second half he found his shot, scoring 15 of his 20 points, and hitting several three pointers, one of which bounced high off the rim before rolling in.
Though Tollackson and McKenzie had big games, the real determining factors were buried deeper in the box score. As was the case in previous games, the Gophers held on to the ball, and crashed the offensive boards. Despite poor shooting and lots of fouls the Gophers led at half time, by volume alone. If you take enough shots, making all of them isn’t as important. The Gopher guards continued to rebound beyond their size, particularly on the offensive end.
Most importantly, the Gophers displayed a toughness that will be a key to a successful season. They were able to hold on during a 15-3 run between the end of the first half and the first few minutes of the second half that resulted in a six point Iowa State lead. But each time Iowa State made a run the Gophers buckled down defensively. The Gophers were clearly more prepared to play a close game, even though this was their second game of the season compared to Iowa State’s fourth.
Overall, this was an impressive win that shows that the remarkable improvement over last year may be due to more than inferior competition. The Gophers faced their first real test of the season, and passed with flying colors.
Who did what?
- Dan Coleman looked flat out horrible in the first half on both ends of the court, missing wide open jumpers and allowing Craig Brackins to score out will. In the second half he really stepped up, especially defensively, and also made a few nice inside shots. He will need to start stepping it up once the Big 10 season starts.
- Kevin Payton did nothing, literally. No shots, no field goals, no points, no free throws made, no free throws attempted, no steals, though he did add a whopping assist, block, two rebounds, and a foul. His lack of out put, and more importantly foot speed, are a severe liability. It is not a coincidence that every Iowa State run took place while he and Abu-Shamala were on the floor at the same time.
- Spencer Tollackson was dominant, shooting 8-12 from the floor. However, he faced foul trouble that luckily proved not to be a factor.
- Lawrence Westbrook struggled in what amounted to his first college road game of consequence. He was able to make two free throws in the last minute of the game to seal the win, not an easy thing to do after sitting on the bench for most of the game.
- Jamal-Abu Shamala had a nice assist and made a three pointer, but was otherwise a non-factor.
- Lawrence McKenzie led the Gopher resurgence in the second half making threes, playing tough defense, and chasing down seven rebounds, which tied for the team lead with Damian Johnson.
- Jonathan Williams threw his weight around, perhaps a little too much. He made both shots he attempted, but picked up a quick three fouls including one about 35 feet from the basket…not the best decision he has ever made.
- Damian Johnson continues to display amazing athleticism, and had the play of the game with a blocked three pointer and dunk. He finished with five points, seven rebounds, and two blocks. He could have had more points if not for a few play where he was out of control. At times he looked like a lanky Rico Tucker. Luckily, the areas where he needs to improve can be improved, while the areas he excels at can’t be taught. He should continue to improve this year.
- Travis Busch played, but the Gopher might have been better off if he didn’t.
- Blake Hoffarber continues to play hard, but is still obviously a freshman. Wide open off balance fade-away 18 footers just aren’t necessary.
- Al Nolen once again played the most minutes at point guard. Despite not filling the score book, he played great defense as usual (5 steals!) and effectively ran the offense. He’s also an impressive rebounder, especially since he is often the shortest player on the floor.
- Ryan Saunders may have been at the game, but I am beginning to wonder if he is actually on the team or just likes to hang around the team wearing expensive suits.