In every game of the National Invitation Tournament, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team has been forced to exorcise evil spirits that kept them out of the Big Dance.
In the first round, Minnesota went into the Savvis Center in St. Louis with a 2-8 road record this season and knocked off the physical host team.
On Monday, the Gophers tangled with Hawaii’s guard-oriented offense. Minnesota’s big lineup struggled all season against teams like the Warriors, who thrived on three-pointers but dispatched the visitors with stingy second-half defense.
Tonight, Minnesota squares off with Temple in Philadelphia, a team that will play 40 minutes of zone defense.
“One of our demons has been shot selection against zone,” coach Dan Monson said. “We’ve got to be able to shoot some threes, but they’ve got to be in context. We can’t be afraid to be aggressive and shoot some on the break. Yet, when we set up we’ve got to be able to search inside and not settle for three pointers.”
The Gophers were not disciplined in the first half against the Warriors, taking quick threes and taking 37 shots in the half while hitting just 16.
In the second stanza, Minnesota explored more on offense, using up the shot clock and finding more open looks. The Gophers only took 19 shots in the half, but hit 13 of them and went 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.
“It’s funny how the more you work the ball around the more points you score,” Monson said. “When we took more time to score we were more successful.”
Minnesota must show discipline on offense against the Owls, who will give the Gophers some open looks with their zone defense.
Offensively, Temple shoots three-pointers like they are going out of style.
The Owls, who start basically four wing players and a center rather than using a true point guard or power forward, have attempted 804 threes this season at 32.6 percent.
Just for comparison, Minnesota has shot 608 trifectas this year, ironically at the same percentage as Temple.
But if the Gophers play solid team defense as they have the last two games, their length should give the Owls’ shooters some trouble.
“We’re trusting each other a lot more now,” center Jerry Holman said. “We believe in each other. We’ve got a great deal of confidence right now. It seems like everything is going our way. Hopefully everything will continue to go like it’s going.”
Now with a two-game win streak, Minnesota has some of its swagger back. The Gophers are beginning to look like the team that won four games in a row in February.
With one more win, Minnesota will earn itself one more East Coast road trip, this time to New York City for the NIT semifinals.
“We just have a little bit more confidence again because we have a couple wins,” forward Michael Bauer said. “Wins always help.”
And so does a sense of urgency. Minnesota knows that one more poor showing will mean the end of its season, and the Gophers still feel they must impress favorably upon their fans and themselves.
“We just want to show ourselves that we’re better and that we do belong in the (NCAA) tournament,” Holman said. “Even though we messed it up on our own, we still believe that we belong in there.”
Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]