If you were looking for some beautiful basketball to watch on a Sunday afternoon, Minneapolis, Minn. was most certainly not the place to be. Minnesota kept their NIT title hopes alive in an ugly game by beating St. Mary's 63-55. Luckily for the Gophers style points don't matter in basketball.
This was a sloppy, incohesive mess of a game. Neither team was able to get into any sort of offensive rhythm for most of the contest. Credit the defense on both ends, but the offense in this game was downright offensive at times. The ugliness of this game -- for those weak of stomach or with small children please avert your eyes -- resulted in 29 turnovers, 47 fouls and 40 percent shooting from the field.
The Gophers were physically on the court, but mentally they might as well have been off in Narnia for the first 12 minutes of the game. Minnesota's first 11 possessions resulted in six turnovers and zero field goals. Deandre Mathieu looked completely lost, committing three early turnovers, including one that was knocked right off his foot and out of bounds.
The Gaels took advantage of a slow Gopher start, converting six turnovers into 11 points. The Barn was completely silent as fans watched a sluggish Gopher team sleepwalk into a 14-0 hole.
Gopher fans should look into taking up the chant "God save the King" after this one. Sophomore forward Joey King continued his torrid shooting spree, keeping the Gophers afloat with nine first half points, and 18 overall on only eight shots. King was the offensive catalyst In a first half where Andre and Austin Hollins combined to score just two points on an abysmal 0-for-7 from the field. If King didn't get this offense started the Gophers season would be dead in the water right now.
Despite starting 1-for-7 from the field and committing eight turnovers the Gophers finished the first half down just four points. The Gaels could not take advantage of any opportunities to pull away, and it would be their eventual undoing.
The second half saw a more focused Gopher team take the court. The full court press implemented by Pitino was a major thorn in the side for the Gaels. St. Mary's guards were often trapped on the sidelines or deep in the back court. Exasperated and confounded, St. Mary's committed eight second-half turnovers while shooting only 36-percent from the field.
The Gopher offense finally found its rhythm in the second half, connecting on 10-of-20 field goals, eight of which were assisted on. The driving lanes finally opened up, allowing Mathieu and Au. Hollins to attack more consistently, creating open opportunities and trips to the charity stripe.
The unsung hero of this game is undoubtedly Elliot Eliason. The big man completely shut First-Team All-WCC forward Brad Wadlow out of the game. Wadlow was held to three points and two rebounds, not even in the same stratosphere as his season averages of 15.5 point and 7.6 rebounds per game. It's not very often a player who scores two points can be considered an x-factor, but when that player delivers seven blocked shots, eight rebounds and one game clinching assist -- coming on an offensive rebound and kick-out to Andre Hollins for three -- he is absolutely worthy of such high praise.
It should be noted that while the Gaels had a rough outing, senior St. Mary's guard Stephen Holt played his heart out. Holt was schooling Mathieu early on, finishing the half with 13 points. He would finish with 24 points, but had to work much harder for scoring opportunities in the second half against the ferocious Gopher full-court press and inside presence of Eliason.
The Gophers next challenge will be either Southern Mississippi or Missouri. The winner of that Tuesday night contest gets to book a trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Semifinals. Three more wins stand between the Gophers and an NIT Championship.