Men’s basketball blowout tempered by starters’ struggles

by Aaron Blake

Despite blowing out Sacred Heart Saturday afternoon at Williams Arena, Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson was again unhappy about the way his team performed.

Three and a half minutes into the second half, Monson took out all five Gopher starters after the Pioneers went on a 7-0 run to come within 10 points at 39-29. The move came just three days after Monson benched preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Rick Rickert and Jerry Holman to start against Oral Roberts.

Sophomores Jeff Hagen and Aaron Robinson then spurred a 22-3 Gopher run to erase any chance for a comeback. Minnesota (8-3) never looked back, beating Sacred Heart 79-46 in front of 12,045.

“I don’t know what that game showed us that we didn’t already know,” Monson said. “I was very displeased at half when we had 11 turnovers, and six or seven of them were ones where we just weren’t strong with the ball.

“We’re not learning from each other and we’re not learning from mistakes. We’re still a team that has a lot of learning to do, and yet it’s Big Ten time.”

The bright side of Minnesota’s victory was the continuing emergence of the bench. Hagen finished with 12 points and nine rebounds and Robinson had 11 points and four assists in 14 minutes, hitting three big 3-pointers in the second half. Both scored career highs.

“(Monson) is starting to become more confident in the bench,” Hagen said. “And that gives us more confidence. We know we can go 11 or 12 deep now.”

After going into the locker room up 36-22 on the strength of 11 points from Maurice Hargrow and 10 from Rickert, the Minnesota starters came out sluggish in the second half.

Hagen got things going after all five were benched at 16:23 of the second half. On successive possessions, Hagen made a pair of free throws, made a layup, stole a ball that lead to two Stanley Gaines free throws, hit a jumper, and assisted on a Robinson 3-pointer.

Robinson sank a second three just 51 seconds after the first one. After the guard hit a pair of free throws with 9:23 remaining, the 22-3 run ended with Minesota leading 61-32.

Minnesota shot 50 percent from the field for the game to the Pioneers’ 27.4 percent and had a big rebounding edge at 51-26. Rickert finished with 14 points and four rebounds in 25 minutes of action.

Maurice Bailey led Sacred Heart with 18 points.

The Gophers begin the Big Ten season on Tuesday versus Illinois at 6:00 p.m.