Clutch play tempered by questionable decisions

by Anthony Maggio

In each of its last two games, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team squeaked by with victories decided in the final seconds.

But neither game should have come down to the wire.

Against Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, the Gophers (3-0) turned the ball over twice in the final minute and a half – both resulting in fast break dunks – giving the Yellow Jackets life.

Forward Rick Rickert bailed out the Gophers, hitting a turn-around jumper with just over six seconds to play to give Minnesota the victory.

However, the Gophers put themselves in a position to get beat.

“There were probably a lot of things that weren’t necessary,” guard Ben Johnson said. “We put ourselves in a bad situation because we weren’t able to handle their press because we had so many turnovers.”

Minnesota turned the ball over 20 times in the contest, with Kevin Burleson and Johnson accounting for 12 of them.

A late game turnover last Saturday against Georgia also proved costly.

With a 68-63 lead and the ball, Minnesota worked through the Bulldogs’ press with under a minute left, but Johnson passed back to a trailing Burleson, who didn’t make it past half court before receiving the pass and was called for an over-and-back.

Georgia came back to tie the game, but Michael Bauer’s buzzer-beater gave the Gophers a victory.

Although he isn’t happy with the late game turnovers, coach Dan Monson is not overly concerned at this point.

“You always worry about them, but you have to learn from them,” Monson said. “I think we’re growing into a better end-of-the-game situation team. You look at teams and it makes you feel better that a lot of other teams have these problems this time of year.”

The important part for the Gophers is that despite the mental lapses, they are still undefeated.

“Coach has been preaching to us that we don’t know how we’re going to win,” Burleson said. “We could win by 20, win by one on a last second shot, whatever. We’re just going to win, no matter how bad we play.”

Minnesota is pleased to pick up two not-so-pretty victories but obviously would prefer to not shoot itself in the foot at the end of games.

The Gophers hope to start acquiring a killer instinct with their two games this weekend.

“I just want to expand on us as a team getting better,” Monson said. “Being able to finish people off is something we need to develop also.”

Minnesota hosts Bethune-Cookman (1-2) Friday at 7 p.m. before its first road contest of the season at Nebraska on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]