Rebounding is the penicillin for the No. 16 Gophers men’s basketball team.
On Wednesday, Minnesota played like they had some sort of flu as Northwestern’s Evan Eschmeyer grabbed as many rebounds (15) as Joel Przybilla (7) and Miles Tarver (8) combined in the Gophers’ 58-55 loss.
But thanks to a shot in the arm things turned positive as quickly as they went bad. Minnesota out-rebounded Penn State 47-25 (26-6 in the first half) in Saturday’s 75-60 win over the Lions at Williams Arena.
The shot came during a couple of days of practice in which Gophers coach Clem Haskins pounded the importance of chasing down errant shots into the minds of his 10-2 squad.
“I can’t believe we out-rebounded them 47-25,” Haskins said after the game. “I think we really concentrated on blocking out more in practice and emphasized rebounding more, and it’s finally starting to soak in.”
Przybilla and Tarver yanked down 13 and 10 rebounds, respectively, and combined to hold Penn State’s Calvin Booth to four rebounds. Booth was the Big Ten’s leading rebounder heading into the game with 9.6 per game.
After Eschmeyer grabbed all of those rebounds and scored 24 points Wednesday night, Minnesota knew Booth was capable of coming to town and causing some of the same problems.
However, Tarver said he knew his post partner could play better and help take the senior Booth out of the game.
“Eschmeyer ate us up inside and we didn’t utilize Joel the way we wanted to,” Tarver said.
“Booth is a similar player to Esch; he just doesn’t have the strength,” he said. “But he’s a better shot blocker and can score just as much, so we decided we needed a neutralizing factor tonight and that was Joel.”
Booth said the Gophers rebound-by-committee approach allowed them to outman the Lions on the glass.
“A lot of times it was five against three on the boards,” Booth said, “and we didn’t get bodies on people like we were supposed to.”
Not only did the inside presence of the Gophers improve with rebounding, but offense as well.
Przybilla lit up Booth for a career-high 17 points and Tarver added nine. Booth credited Przybilla’s scoring outburst to the freshman’s ability to stay active on both ends of the court.
“I knew (Przybilla) had the turn-around jumper, but he was active and able to get some tip-ins when I left to go block some shots,” Booth said. “A couple of times I got caught out of the lane and they threw it over the top.
“He scored points in a lot of different ways because he was so active, and I have to give him credit for that.”
Przybilla, meanwhile, said the butt-kicking he got from Eschmeyer woke him up and caused him to work harder and be more aggressive.
The reinvigorated seven-footer took over the game — diving for loose balls, fighting for rebounds and blocking six shots.
Haskins said he showed Przybilla some tapes of Eschmeyer out-hustling and out-muscling the youngster Wednesday night.
“The thing about Joel is that he’s just a baby learning this game,” Haskins said. “He watched Eschmeyer go on the floor a lot and pick up the loose balls, and I said that to him a few times. I think it probably kicked in that he could do the same thing.”
Przybilla said the tapes of Eschmeyer provided him with some inspiration.
“Watching Eschmeyer going to the floor showed me what I’ve got to do to get loose balls and long rebounds,” Przybilla said. “Big Ten play is so much more physical.”