Rebounding woes cost Minnesota

by Zach Eisendrath

It got so bad that, at one point, the student section started chanting “re-bound” in place of “de-fense.”

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WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Williams Arena

Rebounding, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team’s Achilles heel thus far this season, haunted the Gophers in their 67-66 loss to Arkansas-Little Rock on Saturday afternoon at Williams Arena.

Led by the nation’s second leading rebounder, the Trojans dismantled Minnesota on the glass – out-rebounding the Gophers 43 to 16.

“Obviously that’s why we lost,” junior Spencer Tollackson said. “When you get out-rebounded 16 to 42 (43), if you play 100 games you’re going to lose 99 of them.”

Arkansas-Little Rock senior forward Rashad Jones-Jennings, who came into the game averaging 12.1 rebounds per game, made his presence felt early and often and finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

But it wasn’t just Jones-Jennings grabbing rebounds. The Trojans pulled down 18 offensive rebounds, leading to 17 second-chance points and, on the other end, limited Minnesota to three offensive rebounds for a total of four points.

Despite the huge discrepancy on the glass, the Gophers (4-7, 0-0 Big Ten) still had life until junior point guard Limar Wilson missed a pair of free throws with .08 seconds left, which would have either forced overtime or given Minnesota the win.

But after the game, everyone’s attention was on the rebounding differential.

“You (should) never get beat that bad on the boards,” interim coach Jim Molinari said. “You just can’t let it happen.”

The Gophers were abused on the glass from the onset, and it showed on the scoreboard.

Despite shooting 54.2 percent in the first half, it took a late surge for the Gophers to attain a slim 36-34 lead at the break, after being out-rebounded 9-0 on the offensive boards in the first half.

But Minnesota’s lead quickly vanished at the start of the second half. As the Gophers went without a field goal for the first 4:54 of the half, the Trojans hit seven of their first 12 shots. And midway through the half, Arkansas-Little Rock found itself up by as many as eight.

Fortunately for Minnesota, junior guard Lawrence McKenzie was firing on all cylinders. McKenzie, who had a game-high 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting, put the Gophers on his back in the game’s final minutes and even put his team up briefly, 66-65, when he connected on a pair of free throws with just 12 seconds left to play.

But after blowing a late lead, the Trojans weren’t rattled. In the waning moments, freshman guard Steven Moore beat Wilson off the dribble, and with the Gophers unable to provide any help defense, easily made his way through Minnesota’s defense for the go-ahead bucket.

“We didn’t compete on that possession,” Molinari said.

Without any timeouts remaining, Wilson sprinted down the length of the court with time running out and was fouled on a lay-up attempt.

Wilson, however, was unable to convert on either free throw attempt, leaving Minnesota searching for answers.

But all parties agreed Wilson was not to blame for the game’s outcome. Between the team’s rebounding deficiencies and defensive breakdowns – the Gophers gave up 67 points to a team averaging 46.7 points per game – Molinari and various players said many things could have been handled better, but it was rebounding that was the biggest issue.

And for a team that will surely see bigger and stronger opponents during the Big Ten season just a few short weeks’ away, different ways of solving Minnesota’s rebounding problems were offered after the game.

Molinari, who played junior Dan Coleman at small forward midway through the second half to try and solve the problem, said he might have to play bigger lineups.

“I think rebounding is (about) heart and athletic ability and fight,” he said. “There are a lot of different things that go into it.

“The only way you can solve that, I think, is figure out different ways to go.”

Tollackson, who had a team-high four rebounds, said the team just needs to get angry.

“I think certain guys are going to have to step up and say ‘enough is enough’ and try to do something to try and fix it, because that’s why we’re losing games,” he said.

Sophomore forward Jonathan Williams said the Gophers were simply “outfought” by the Trojans. But, nevertheless, like all losses, it was definitely a learning experience.

“We’ve got to put this behind us and not forget about it,” he said. “It’s a bad loss for us, but it is a motivator to let us know we need to work hard going into the Big Ten season.”

Walker out

Another long-time coach was absent from the Minnesota bench on Saturday as assistant coach Bill Walker “parted ways” with the team Molinari announced on Friday.

“I’ve parted with Bill Walker,” Molinari said Friday. “I just evaluated every area, and I felt that that was best at this point. He obviously has done a lot for Minnesota basketball.”

Walker, a close friend of former coach Dan Monson, was in his eighth season with the Gophers.

Molinari wouldn’t shed light on why the decision was made, but said when athletic director Joel Maturi gave him the reigns of the program in November, Molinari was told he could make changes he felt were necessary.