Category Archives: Spencer Tollackson

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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Weaknesses exposed- Gophers look to rebound against UC-Riverside

In 7th grade, I was the worst player on the worst team in a league full of very bad basketball teams. I doubt than even a D-III player eventually emerged from an of those Catholic school junior high teams that were happy to hit the rim with a lay up or the back board with a free throw. Most of the time, due to the shear ineptitude of everyone on the basketball court, the games were competitive. Unfortunately, our coach decided to schedule a game against Hopkins or Minnetonka, one of those suburban powers fond of wearing blue and having 6 foot tall seventh graders with a mid-range jumper. Needless to say, we didn’t stand a chance.

While many 7th grade teams (and coaches) would be content to run up the score and give everyone a chance to play, this extremely talented 7th grade team decided to run up the score while working on their weaknesses. Their coach mandated that there would be no shots unless it was a layup or if their team had completed at least five passes. This didn’t keep the score close, but it was probably a lot more beneficial than running past slow and out of shape short kids.

Which brings us to today’s game… UC-Riverside looks a lot my seventh grade basketball team. They are 2-4 but their wins, strangely enough, show more than their losses. Their first win of the season came against Idaho, 65-64. Their other win came against Hope International, which I think we played in 7th grade. Their losses came against, Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, Texas-Arlington, and Texas Tech. The Gophers won’t find a better opportunity to work out their kinks. While it might be a bit demeaning to not let the Gophers shoot until they have made five passes, it might be worthwhile for Tubby Smith might want to consider instituting a few rules for today’s game.

Dan Coleman: Not allowed to shoot a jumpshot until he makes a layup or dunk, and no more than three consecutive jump shots. Blocking a shot or taking a charge may substitute for a layup.

Jamal Abu-Shamala: No shots until he forces a turnover.

Spencer Tollackson- Nothing but dunks, unless he gets an offensive rebound. When he pulls in an offensive rebound, his feet must touch the ground before shooting again.

Damian Johnson- 10 pushups every time he misses a layup. We all know he needs to bulk up for the Big 10 season.

Jonathan Williams- No shots inside 10 feet.

Lawrence McKenzie- Please refer to Dan Coleman

Kevin Payton- Must shoot every time he is within 25 feet of the basket. Errant jumpshots may actually be more beneficial than his errant passing and dribbling.

Ryan Saunders- No suits that are more expensive than tuition at the U until he actually plays a game.

If the Gophers follow all of my suggestions, they might lose. But, they might actually learn something.

Instead, they’ll probably play how they usally do, and win 85-60, though they have a lot to work on.

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.

An ugly win is still a win

Tonight’s match-up against Central Michigan had the potential to be a trap game, and for the first 18 minutes, that potential was in danger of being realized. Eventually, Minnesota shrugged off its sluggishness long enough to win 77-59. The Gophers came out flat, stood still on offense, weren’t careful with the basketball, and forced Tubby Smith to make a line change a few minutes into the game. The next five didn’t fare much better, as Central Michigan hung around for much of the half until Spencer Tollackson hit a perfect 35 foot three point shot as time expired. It was only one of the many occasions when the Chippewa’s couldn’t stop Tollackson.

Carrying the team with his inside scoring and open court dunking, Tollackson finished the game with 14 points on 5-6 shooting (including the three pointer), six rebounds (three offensive), two blocks, and two steals. Most importantly, he stayed out of foul trouble, while forcing the Chippewa big men (and oh were they big, more later) into frustrated fouls. The Lawrences (McKenzie and Westbrook) were also in double figures with 11 and 10 respectively, both on poor shooting nights.

There are bad basketball teams, there are last year’s Gophers, and then there are this year’s Chippewas. In my previous post, I mentioned the improvement Central Michigan made last year. Rather than being the first step in a rebuilding process, last year’s thirteen wins may have been a fluke. I have a hard time believing that Central Michigan will win more than five games. The problems with the team are clichés out of a sports movie (before the new coach, new player, or inspiring injury or illness leads to a championship, close but inspiring loss, or new found confidence or self-awareness). Giordan Watson, their best player, clearly does not trust his teammates. On several possessions he dribbled nearly the whole possession only to make an ill-advised drive to the basket or take a jump shot. He finished with 22 points, but took 20 shots and also committed four turnovers. A 9-20 shooting night might not look that bad, until one considers what the rest of his teammates did. The most shots attempted by any other Central Michigan players was 6. The rest of the Chippewas shot the ball a combined 29 teams. Joining Watson are the unconventional power forward (generously listed 6’3″ 270 lbs) and former Purdue Boilermaker Nate Minnoy; hot headed point guard Jeremy Allan who fouled out on a personal and technical foul combination after only eight minutes; Marko Spika, a whining, crying immensely untalented European big man; and Justin Blevins, who threw what appeared to be an intentional forearm at Damian Johnson and Kevin Payton on the same play. Ernie Ziegler, the Chippewas’ coach, clearly has his work cut out for him, especially with the team showing no interest in listening to him. The dreadfulness of Central Michigan was clearly the deciding factor of the game. Although, in an alarming development, they somehow turned the ball over less than the Gophers. At least the Gophers doubled their assist total over the Iowa State game.

On a random side note, I was selected the “Fuel it up fan of the game” because I remained standing during the time outs. I didn’t have the heart to tell the fan of the game selector that I wasn’t standing because of my undying dedication to all things maroon and gold, but because I have been mostly sedentary since Wednesday afternoon and didn’t want to sit anymore. However, I’ll take the $50 gift card, and especially the opportunity to stand on the court and hear Dick Jankowski say my name. And they say dreams don’t come true.

Who did what:

  • Dan Coleman played soft again on offense, but had eight rebounds to go along with nine points. He added two blocks and two steals. Unfortunately, Coleman had five of the Gopher turnovers.
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala made his free throws.
  • Spencer Tollackson dominated again. You probably won’t ever see him make a 30 some footer buzzer beater and have a break away dunk again.
  • Lawrence McKenzie also made his free throws and didn’t do much else.
  • Lawrence Westbrook played much better than last Tuesday, and pulled down a very impressive rebound over several players, many of whom are on his own team.
  • Al Nolen continues to not play like a freshman. He led the team with 5 assists and committed only one turnover while playing solid defense.
  • Kevin Payton may finally have had his plug pulled. He didn’t start and played only 10 minutes. He did start the second half, but immediately turned the ball over on an ugly attempt at a behind the back dribble. It turns out the Payton has a little bit of foot-speed, but is completely out of control when moving faster than a snail’s pace. Three points, three personal fouls, and four turnover aren’t good enough on any team, even Central Michigan. He couldn’t even draw a foul on an intentional quasi-punch.
  • Jonathan Williams made both shots he attempted, pulled down four rebounds, and didn’t foul anyone. This is very encouraging.
  • Blake Hoffarber played his best game as a Gopher, making three three-pointers.
  • Damian Johnson was once again a solid contributer, making a fall away sweeping layup despite being intentionally fouled.
  • Ryan Saunders: modest suit, ugly tie.
  • Travis Busch gets his fashion advice from Saunders.
  • The crowd showed up, including future Gopher Paul Carter, although there were plenty of new (and much older) faces in The Barnyard. It was good to see the upper deck full for a non-conference game.

Though hardly anyone could watch the game because hardly any ISP’s carry ESPN360, there are at least video highlights of tonight’s game available here.

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.