Gophers Hopes Fading With Heartbreaking Loss to Michigan State

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By Mike Gallagher

What a difference a week makes…..

The Golden Gopher basketball team’s hopes were higher than ever at the beginning of this week, with Royce White practicing for the first time in nearly three months.

The next day things took a drastic turn for the worst.  One of the nation’s top perimeter defenders and captain of the Gopher offense, point guard Al Nolen, was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA.

It seems that’s how the season has gone for the Gophers, good news followed by equally damaging information.

The beginning of the year netted one very exciting young kid, Rodney Williams, tearing apart non-conference foes.  It was offset by two huge blows to the squad, in the losses of Trevor Mbakwe and Royce White for an undetermined amount of time.

The Gophers pulled an upset of tenth-ranked Butler, only to follow it up by losses to Portland and Texas A&M in the 76 Classic.

With the happenings of this week, Gopher fans have to start wondering what’s next, and if the team will even be able to get to the NCAA tournament considering how depleted the roster is.

Knowing that Nolen wasn’t going to be in the lineup Saturday vs. Michigan State, it was hard to say how the team would react and what kind of fight they would be able to put up against the seventh-ranked Spartans.

With White, Mbakwe, and Nolen all in street clothes on the Gophers bench, Minnesota clearly came out with a purpose in mind; to show that, even without their starting PG, they belong in the ranks of the conference’s top teams.

They jumped out to an early lead and led by eight at the half, clearly dominating on both ends, and for the first time this season, running an effective half court offense.

The Spartans, however, are a top ten team for a reason, and came out firing in the second half.

The Gophers sorely missed Al Nolen’s defense Saturday, as he held Kalin Lucas to 3-14 shooting in the team’s last meeting.

Lucas went off on this day, and showed why he is the Big Ten Player of the Year, dropping 22 on Devoe Joseph and Lawrence Westbrook’s defense, including the game winning three pointer with 1:27 left.

That three gave the Spartans their first lead, and completed their comeback from 13 down in the second half to steal a key game that the Gophers had locked up the entire way.

Give credit to the Gophers, they played extremely well throughout, with a big offensive performance (16 points, seven assists) from the now-starting point guard Devoe Joseph.  While he got worked on the defensive end by Lucas, he made a lot of big shots and showed some athleticism and decision making the Gophers starting five was severely lacking.

“Knowing that we’re missing our starting point guard, we came and we fought harder. We fought real hard,” Joseph said.

A valiant effort, but there might be a problem underlying the comment as well.

This was a very solid performance, but can the Gophers come out and continue to play at this level?  They’re a very solid home team, but the road is unkind to them and at this point, a big key to the team is the streaky Joseph.  If he can perform like this on a game-by-game basis, the Gophers will have a chance in every game, but this is the same guy that went 0-11 over a three game span earlier this year.

With this loss, things are starting to look grim for the Gophers tournament chances.  They’re sitting on 12 wins and with nine games to go, certainly need to win seven, with eight surely getting them in.  But that’s a tall order considering they have five more road games (one road win this season), and three opponents ranked in the top 25 left.

We’ll have to wait to put the last nail in this tournament coffin until Al Nolen’s appeal is resolved and we know about Royce White’s ETA.  Nolen’s appeal is not likely to go through, however, and it’s hard to believe White would be an impact having missed so much time.

Tubby Smith is a great coach and was brought here to bring this team to the tournament and beyond.  But even for a miracle worker like Smith, all the off-court issues just might be too much.

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Comments

  1. this was the first game i got to watch all season, & it was great until the last minute… i was entertained & impressed & really thought they would pull it off… mike, do you think this team has a guy or maybe two who can lead this team to the tourney? who really cares enough to play hard & motivate himself? who has a heart? they obviously have the talent, they need to have the spirit as well… one or two guys can usually do it in college basketball, would you agree? GO GOPHERS!

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