In a game that had copious amounts of question marks attached to it, the Minnesota Golden Gophers seemed to answer them all. Despite a tough night from the field as a team (33 percent) the Gophers were able to control much of their game against the Harvard Crimson this afternoon. Minnesota held a nine point advantage at half and was able to muster enough second half offense to take home the victory 65-55.
While Harvard shot poorly too, it was Minnesota’s defense that propelled them to a win in their final non-conference game of the season. It is perhaps the first time this year where we can attribute defense as the primary benefactor to a Gopher victory. That has to be welcome news as Big Ten conference play resumes for Minnesota on Wednesday.
Let’s unpack what we learned from this afternoon.
What We Learned
1. Dupree McBrayer was happy to be back
The junior had missed the previous two games due to a lower leg injury. His status for this game was in question up until late this week. Perhaps it was strategy that kept Richard Pitino quiet on McBrayer’s status all week. If that was the idea, it may have worked. McBrayer went on to score a game high 15 points on four of eight shooting in this game. He also tacked on four rebounds, three assists, and made three baskets from beyond the arc.
For Pitino and the Gophers it has to be a beautiful sight to see McBrayer succeed after missing a decent chunk of game action. In McBrayer’s case, it has to be nice to see some shots go through the net on a consistent basis. Coming into tonight, he was only shooting 37 percent from the field which can be compared to his nearly 45 percent clip last season.
As conference play bears down on Minnesota’s core, it is important for McBrayer to continue playing at the level he is now. The team is by no means expecting him to score like he did today on a nightly basis. However, games like this will be needed in the Big Ten stretch.
2. Isaiah Washington is good, but inefficient
I love the way Washington plays, it really is something Minnesota fans are not used to seeing. The no-look passes, the fancy lay-ups, it’s different. He really has been a breath of fresh air for me at least. Washington posted some nice box score number today with nine points and 13 rebounds. Yes, you are reading that properly, the Gopher point guard snared 13 boards this afternoon. He certainly did take advantage of the expanded role bestowed upon him today.
With that being said, Washington is wildly inefficient offensively. Before today’s game, he was shooting only 36 percent from the field. He followed that number up by shooting four of 17 from the field today, a paltry 24 percent. Now, I am not expecting Washington to make every shot, I know the proper expectations to put on a freshman point guard. However, he could have just as easily shot the Gophers out of the game today if not for Dupree McBrayer’s fabulous performance.
There is good news though. Do not expect to see Washington struggle with efficiency for long. Give him a summer in the gym and I truly believe his shooting problems will be eradicated.
3. The Gophers can survive without Nate Mason
Well, they can for now at least. Mason was possibly on track to play today before being ruled out prior to tip-off. That leads me to believe he will be back on the floor come Wednesday evening. Maybe Richard Pitino thought they could win without Mason and he wanted to give him more time to heal up. Keep in mind that Harvard is not a cupcake opponent. The Ivy League has always been a competitive one, especially come March, and Harvard has been in the mix every year in that conference it seems.
Never the less, it seems that the Gophers can survive without their star point guard. It may not have been a pleasant win to watch, but Gopher fans will take it.
A semi-shorthanded win of this caliber has to give Minnesota some momentum moving into their Big Ten schedule. They welcome Illinois and Indiana to The Barn this week to reopen their conference slate. Better yet, they may have Nate Mason back for their Wednesday clash with the Illini. If he cannot go that day, he will surely be ready for the Saturday tilt with the Hoosiers. Either way, Minnesota has to feel good after this solid victory.