Minnesota goes to 2-0 with 10-point win over Iowa State

The Gophers’ three seniors once again led the way, posting a combined 51 points.

by Zach Eisendrath

.AMES, Iowa – The Minnesota men’s basketball team understood before its season-opening road game Tuesday night that wins are not handed out away from home.

After all, the Gophers’ first and only road win last season came the last day of January when Minnesota won at Northwestern.

So excuse Minnesota for possibly being overly elated at winning its first road game in as many tries to start the 2007-08 season.

Led by a combined 51 points from their three seniors – center Spencer Tollackson (21), guard Lawrence McKenzie (20) and forward Dan Coleman (10) – the Gophers gutted out a 68-58 win over Iowa State in front of a raucous crowd at the Hilton Coliseum.

“Those guys are not only seniors, but tough players. They made big plays when plays need to be made,” Iowa State head coach Greg McDermott said.

Indeed they did. The trio of seniors scored 18 points in a 20-5 Minnesota (2-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) run to help the Gophers reverse a four-point second-half deficit into a 10-point lead.

McKenzie, who came off the bench to start the game after missing a handful of practices while nursing a groin injury, was the catalyst to Minnesota’s second half comeback.

No stranger to Ames after playing the Cyclones (2-2, 0-0 Big 12) during his two years at Oklahoma, McKenzie scored 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the final 20 minutes, leaving Iowa State baffled.

“Every time we made a mistake on McKenzie he made us pay for it,” McDermott said.

Tollackson, who helped the Gophers jump out to a four-point halftime lead with 14 first-half points, said McKenzie, not surprisingly, carried the team when it needed it most.

“Everybody knew that Lawrence had an injury – he did,” Tollackson said, “We told Lawrence to take whatever time you need to get healthy because we need you on the team this year. We need you to win basketball games.”

“I knew what he could do, whether he sat out a week, a day, or practiced every day; I was not surprised that he put out a performance like he did in the second half. He put us on his shoulders.”

But from the start, it didn’t look like McKenzie would have much impact, nor would the Gophers would be able to handle a Big 12 opponent away from Williams Arena as Minnesota trailed 10-4 moments into the contest.

Minnesota, however, quickly regained its composure and eventually moved in front after sophomore forward Damian Johnson’s one-man full court outburst midway through the first half. Johnson blocked a three-point attempt by Cyclones guard Sean Haluska then grabbed the ball and flushed a two-handed slam through the net.

It was plays like that – defense leading to offense – that helped the Gophers to their first road win under head coach Tubby Smith.

“When we do play hard and play good defensively, we are a good team,” Smith said.