Category Archives: Lawrence McKenzie

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.

Tollackson, McKenzie help Gophers hold off Iowa State

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.