Category Archives: Minnesota State

Al Nolen is just about perfect

Next year’s Gopher recruiting class may be highly touted, but Al Nolen is showing that this year’s freshmen have impact potential as well. Despite a sluggish first half, the Gophers beat Southwest Minnesota State 88-52.

After last weeks solid floor game against Minnesota State, Nolen scored 24 points, didn’t miss a shot from the field or the free throw line, including 6-6 from behind the three point line, and perhaps most importantly, turned the ball over only once. Spencer Tollackson was 8-10 from the floor, and was unstoppable from the inside. Unfortunately, this proved to be the only reliable scoring from the Gophers in the first half, as they missed several wide open three pointers, occasionally on one possession.

Southwest State was ableto hang around until half time, occassionally causing Gopher fans to have flashbacks to last year’s embarrassing but not particularly surprising loss to Winona State. The Mustangs repeatedly answered Gopher runs, cutting the lead to one with nine minutes to play in the first half, and down to five after a buzzer beating three pointer .

The second half was all Gophers as the outside shots started to fall, and the Mustangs could barely get a shot off. The Gophers made 7-11 three pointers in the second half, compared to 20% in the first half. Southwest State made only two field goals in the second half, and were only able to get off 14 shots. In the first half they were 14-27 from the floor.

While it is way to early to tell if Nolen’s performance will translate to a successful freshman season, at the very least it shows that the Gophers may have a viable second point guard, perhaps enough to free Lawrence Mckenzie from ball handling duties. McKenzie sat out tonight’s game with a groin injury. Hopefully both former Minneapolis Henry guards will have the chance to be on the court at the same time Saturday against Army.

Who did what

  • Lawrence Westbrook once again showed he is deserving of his increased playing time. His 17 points in no way rivaled his record setting high school performances, but his play continues to take pressure off “the big three”.
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala didn’t play much, but did make his first three pointer of the season. Hopefully he will avoid washing dishes for the rest of the season
  • I was high on Kevin Payton a year ago, but I am not sure why now. He continues to lead the team in assists, but is such a liability when he shoots and while playing defense that it may be time to move the other guards up in the rotation.
  • Jonathan Williams is a fouling machine. There were no highlight material decapitations tonight, which is an improvement over last week. However, it is hard to be intimidating while sitting on the bench.
  • Blake Hoffarber continues to show growing pains. He was beaten badly on consecutive plays late in the first half. Being beaten because of lack of height or quickness is acceptable, but there is no excuse for simply having no idea where your man is.
  • Ryan Saunders’s suit costs as much as tuition at the U. I know he is Flip’s kid, but he doesn’t need to dress like his dad.
  • The student section, or at least the writer of the student section newsletter, needs to watch a few more basketball games before writing official cheering instructions. It shouldn’t take five sentences to describe how to distract a free throw shooter. More on this in a later entry.
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Big Win is Big Relief


The Gophers did what they were supposed to do, which is certainly what they were not able to do time and time again a year ago. With relative ease, the Gophers beat one of the better Division II teams in the country, showed that they will undoubtedly be better than last year, and escaped without any injuries. What more could you ask for?

Despite higher expectations than a year ago, especially with a coach who has already achieved demigod status on the local sports scene, no one really knew what to expect. To the chagrin of many, Tubby Smith has stayed out of the media and kept practices mostly closed, not that the local media wants to fight rush hour traffic to watch drills at 7:30 in the morning. Would the team be any better? Would anyone bother showing up to find out? What can you find out against a team whose most well known player is named Attila?

The team is better, definitely. The offense had more flow than at any point last year. The point a minute pace of a year ago has been replaced with crisp passes, not so crisp full court heaves, and just enough bad decisions to whet any coaches pre-season appetite for things to work on. Lawrence McKenzie is a great leaper, but Kevin Payton should know by now that a sure two points is better than a haphazard ally-oop pass to a player two inches shorter just isn’t worth it.

So what did we learn? Who knows? A loss to a Division II team tells you a lot more than a win ever will. At the very least, the Gophers will be worth paying attention to this year, will probably win a game or two that they shouldn’t, and have a shot at getting back to the NIT. Tubby won’t resurrect this program over night, but at least there is life in The Barn once again.

Who did what?

Dan Coleman was more aggressive, more confident, and might begin to reach his full potential as his college career winds down.

Jonathan Williams is not just a presence, but a force. Last year he the elephant in the room. Everyone knew he was there, but no one talked about him. He is bigger, stronger, and not afraid to throw his weight around, even if he occasionally mistook Minnesota State’s Jadee Jones’ s head for the ball. Williams consistently altered shots, intimidated anyone venturing into the lane, and pulled down an impressive 13 rebounds.

Lawrence McKenzie scored his share of points as usual, but did so within the flow of the offense.

The other Lawrence (Westbrook), starting in place of Jamal Abu-Shamala, showed that his gaudy high-school numbers should have earned him more playing time last year.

Al Nolan didn’t play like a freshman. For a team lacking point guard experience, this is surely a good sign.

Damian Johnson showed he was by far the most athletic player on the floor, twice blocking mid-range jump shots. If only there was a libero in basketball.

Kevin Payton still looks lost. He did have five assists and only one turnover, but didn’t score and committed three fouls in only 15 minutes.

Travis Busch had good hair, but Ryan Saunders’ was better.

Sid Hartman almost made it through the first half.