Without Nolen, Gophers avoid road upset

Minnesota seemingly couldn't afford to lose its senior point guard, but a balanced offense helped the No. 15 Gophers to hang on in Ann Arbor.

Without Nolen, Gophers avoid road upset

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Josh Katzenstein

Al Nolen has been playing through a right foot injury for much of the season, so when he sat out Saturday after landing awkwardly on his right ankle in the first half, it wasnâÄôt much of a surprise.

How the 15th-ranked Gophers responded without their senior point guard, on the other hand, was an uplifting sign for a team in search of its first road win since Dec. 8.

Freshmen guards Maverick Ahanmisi and Chip Armelin both played well in extended roles off the bench, and senior Blake Hoffarber, who played point guard for much of the second half, had zero turnovers and six assists in 36 minutes as Minnesota beat Michigan, 69-64.

âÄúWe knew everybody had to step up,âÄù Hoffarber told the Associated Press. âÄúInjuries are part of the game, so you have to be ready when things like this happen.âÄù

Junior forward Trevor Mbakwe finished with 13 points and eight rebounds in his third straight game off the bench. Gophers coach Tubby Smith told Big Ten Network before the game that he considered keeping Colton Iverson, who had 9 points and nine rebounds, in the starting rotation because the Gophers won the last two games with him in the lineup. Junior center Ralph Sampson added 13 points and seven rebounds as the Gophers (15-4, 4-3 Big Ten) dominated the post, winning the rebounding battle 38-13.

The Wolverines opened the game hoping to exploit the GophersâÄô weak perimeter defense and were able to do so early, hitting seven 3-pointers in the first half. Zack NovakâÄôs triple gave Michigan a 24-15 lead with 7:09 left in the first half, but the Gophers battled back with a 9-0 run. Then, with the game tied at 29-29, Ahanmisi hit a jumper to give the Gophers a 31-29 halftime lead.

âÄúI might be a freshman, but I have to grow up real fast,âÄù Ahanmisi told the Pioneer Press. âÄúMy confidence is higher because of that [game]. IâÄôm going to be ready whenever coach needs me.âÄù

The Gophers started the second half on an 8-0 run, and AhanmisiâÄôs 3-pointer gave them a 38-29 lead, their largest of the game. But the Wolverines battled back, determined to beat Minnesota for a fifth-straight time.

Michigan reclaimed a 41-40 lead with 11:19 remaining, when a Darius Morris 3-pointer capped a 12-0 run. The Wolverines wouldnâÄôt sniff another lead, though, as the Gophers stretched the lead back to 8 with a 12-3 run that included two 3-pointers from Rodney Williams and consecutive baskets from Armelin, who finished with 7 points. Williams entered the game just 2-for-23 from beyond the arc, but his two 3-pointers came at the right time Saturday. He finished with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists in a career-high 37 minutes.

Hoffarber scored 9 of his 12 points during the final 4:29 to help the Gophers avoid any late charge from the Wolverines.

After the win, the focus turned back to Nolen. Smith didnâÄôt announce a time frame for the current injury, but the Gophers were already struggling with depth. Earlier this month, NolenâÄôs backup, guard Devoe Joseph, transferred to Oregon, and Mo Walker suffered a season-ending knee injury in December.

âÄúWe need him back,âÄù Hoffarber told the Star Tribune. âÄúHeâÄôs a great point guard, great leader on the team. Anytime someone like that goes down … we lost Devoe earlier in this season. We need [Nolen] back.âÄù