Men's basketball: Gophers extend winning streak to 8 games
By Mike Cook, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — After feasting on lesser competition this month, No. 13 Minnesota feels it is ready for the Big Ten season.
Joe Coleman scored 12 points, and No. 13 Minnesota got 42 points from its reserves in a 75-50 rout of Lafayette on Saturday night.
Otto Osenieks added 10 points for the Gophers (12-1), who have won eight straight.
“We’re definitely ready,” said Rodney Williams, Minnesota’s second-leading scorer. “We’ve been waiting since summer workouts to get the Big Ten season started.”
Dan Trist scored 14 points for the Leopards (5-9), who are 0-7 on the road. Seth Hinrichs, a 2011 MACCRAY graduate, added 11 points.
Minnesota led by 15 at halftime before stretching its lead soon after the break.
Rodney Williams scored six points, and Coleman added four, including a steal and dunk, as the Gophers went ahead by 20 and cruised the rest of the way.
“Just to see everybody play the way they did is encouraging,” Williams said.
Osenieks scored while being knocked to the floor and made the ensuing free throw to cap a 16-4 run that put Minnesota up 67-37 with 7:31 to play. Wally Ellenson scored on a reverse dunk two minutes later.
It was the final nonconference game for the Gophers, whose only loss was to top-ranked Duke on Nov. 22. Minnesota will begin Big Ten play at home on Dec. 31 against No. 20 Michigan State.
Based on rankings, Michigan — like Minnesota — is supposed to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten. Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State and Illinois are all ranked in the top 10.
However, with arguably the best team in Tubby Smith’s six seasons as coach, the deep and athletic Gophers are showing they could be better than pollsters believe.
In addition to Lafayette, the Gophers have beaten North Florida, South Dakota State, Southern Cal — losers in seven of eight — and North Dakota State in December by at least 13 points, while averaging a 20.8-point differential in the five contests.
“In past years there were times we’d play with teams we should be putting away and instead we’d win by nine, 10 points,” Williams said. “This is definitely good to see.”
The Gophers forced 19 turnovers, including 12 in the first half, mostly by keeping Lafayette to the outside and jumping into passing lanes.
Minnesota has four players averaging double figures in points. Mbakwe, who got his first start of the season, is averaging 9.2 points. The sixth-year senior had been coming off the bench as he works his way back from surgery for a torn knee ligament that ended his 2011-12 campaign in the seventh game.
“The Big Ten is a grind it out type of league. As long as we control the boards we’ll put ourselves in a good position,” Mbakwe said.
Playing its first game in 11 days because of final exams, Minnesota showed early rust, but Maverick Ahanmisi and Osenieks made 3-pointers to key a 14-3 run and put the Gophers up 18-9 midway through the first half.
The starters then went on a 10-2 run, and finished the half on a 9-2 spurt, including two dunks by Coleman for a 37-22 halftime lead.
When the long-range shots didn’t fall, the Gophers rebounded and scored. Minnesota finished with a 46-25 rebounding edge, and outscored the Leopards 25-2 in second-chance points, and 40-16 in the paint.
With Temple upsetting third-ranked Syracuse earlier in the day, Lafayette felt there was a chance for lighting to strike again.
“I was hoping,” said O’Hanlon, who’s close friends with Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “We’re not as good as Temple right now; I think Minnesota is every bit as good as Syracuse.”