Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Gophers 70, Bucknell Bison 58

 

The Bucknell Bison gave the Minnesota Gophers all that they could handle in the season opener on Friday night.

Winning by a score of 70 to 58, the Gophers were challenged all night by a pesky Bison team.

Trevor Mbakwe led the way for the Gophers, which will have to be the theme on most nights throughout the 2011-12 season.

Jumping out to an early 7-0 lead, it appeared that the Gophers struggles in their two preseason contests were a thing of the past.

Ralph Sampson III led the way for the Gophers in the first half with six points and four rebounds. But it was the balanced scoring attack of the Gophers that surprised many at The Barn.

But a balanced offensive attack was trumped by six first half turnovers, and a horrid one of eight from beyond the arc in the game’s opening 20 minutes.

While early on the Gophers looked like a drastically superior team, the Bison kept it close with the hot hand of guard Byrson Johnson.

Johnson– who was four of six from deep in the first half–  kept the Bison within two of the Gophers at 33-31 as the teams exited for halftime.

The Gophers poor free-throw shooting and lack of effectiveness finishing around the rim, coincided with the pure lack of athleticism by the Bison, kept the game 41-41 with 12 minutes to play.

After sitting for a five minute stretch in the second half due to foul trouble, Mbakwe scored an easy two and made one of two free-throws to bring the Gophers lead to 44-41 with ten minutes to play.

In the first 12 plus minutes of the second half, the Gophers shot a woeful three for 19 from the field. But in that same stretch, the Bison were just as bad; shooting two for 12 to start the second half. With 7:49 left to play the Gophers led 45-44.

A Cameron Ayers three made the score 47-45 in favor of the Bison with 7:04 to play.

Then Ayers and guard Bryan Cohen hit back-to-back threes and the Bison extended their lead to 53-48 with 5:53 to play.

The Gophers responded. A couple of Mbakwe free-throws, followed by an Austin Hollins three, tied the game up at 53-53 with just over four minutes to play.

Two Mbakwe free-throws, followed by three Austin Hollins free-throws made it 58-53 in favor of the Gophers with 2:35 to play.

Then Trevor Mbakwe got the best of the Bison bigs. The senior put the Gophers on his shoulders, and their lead grew to 66-57 with 52 seconds remaining.

While the Bison gave the Gophers all they could handle for 38 minutes, the Gophers proved to be too much. The final Minnesota 70, Bucknell 58.

Mbakwe led the way for the Gophers with 17 points and ten rebounds. Sampson contributed with eight points and nine rebounds. Austin Hollins finished with 13 points.

Things I noticed:

  • Julian Welch has lightning quick hands on defense. Twice in the first half he picked the pockets of Bison point guards in the backcourt, which on both occasions led to easy baskets for the Gophers.
  • The Sampson conundrum continues. While looking tentative and unconfident all night in the preseason finale against Augustana. Sampson showed confidence in his 15-foot jump shot, but also played strong inside and battled on the glass. If consistency can be seen, the senior could give the Gophers the a much needed second banana offensively alongside Trevor Mbakwe.
  • Smith wasn’t shy on playing both point guards at the same time tonight. Both ‘Dre Hollins and Julian Welch played together for a significant portion of the game.
  • Defensively, the Gophers rotated well all night. Aggressive on ball pressure was always supported by help defense when needed. And the bigs weren’t afraid to rotate out onto shooters.
  • Bucknell was fundamentally superior on the offensive end. They ran their offense much more crisply, while also finishing more adequately than the Gophers around the rim.
  • When Mbakwe sits, as does the Gophers score. For the five minute stretch that Trevor sat in the second half with three fouls, the Gophers didn’t score.
  • Against much inferior post opponents, the Gophers did man handle the lane on the defensive end.
  • Tubby rotated 12 guys throughout the game, but I think he missed the memo that this is a preseason game. That, or more accurately, he realizes that there is a definite lack of cohesiveness in the Gophers unit, and he’s still trying to find out combinations that work.
  • Say what you want about Austin Hollins and his over confidence (and the fact that his dad will soon have nothing better to do than watch Big Ten basketball. Ok, NBA lockout tangent over.), but the dude is the only Gopher that has consistently hit from deep in the season opener and the two preseason games beforehand. Speaking of shooting from deep…
  • What was supposed to be Tubby’s best shooting team, has become the apparent antithesis. The Gophers shot just three for 15 from three-point range on the night.
  • While the starting lineup of ‘Dre Hollins, Austin Hollins, Williams, Mbakwe, and Sampson may continue, it is appears that ‘Dre comes out and Welch enters at crunch time to run the point. At least that was the case tonight.
The Gophers will be back in action Monday night as they host the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at The Barn.
-Brett Cloutier
Brett is a contributor to The Sports Bank. He covers all things Minnesota sports. You can follow him on Twitter @brettcloutier
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