Gophers knock off No. 12 Butler at 76 Classic

by Marco LaNave

The Gophers were up to the challenge on Thanksgiving, and they needed all of their depth to pull out a victory.

Sophomore center Colton Iverson had a double-double in the first half, and senior forward Damian Johnson scored 14 of his team-leading 18 points in the second half of No. 22 Minnesota’s 82-73 win over No. 12 Butler (3-1) in the opening round of the 76 Classic at the Anaheim Convention Center on Thursday night.  Minnesota will play the winner of Thursday’s game between UCLA and Portland in a semifinal on Friday at 8:30 p.m.

The Gophers’ starters scored just 9 points in the first half, but the bench contributed 23 to give the Gophers (4-0) a 32-28 halftime lead.  In the first half, Iverson had 11 points and 10 rebounds (five each on offense and defense).  There were nine lead changes in the first 19 minutes, but Iverson made sure the final one went in Minnesota’s favor.  After scoring on a layup to tie the game 27-27, he blocked a shot, and on the ensuing possession, he grabbed an offensive rebound and passed to junior guard Blake Hoffarber for an open 3-pointer that gave the Gophers a 30-27 lead 1:32 before halftime.

Hoffarber and sophomore guard Devoe Joseph combined for 21 second-half points, including four 3-point field goals and nine free throws.  Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook scored 9 points in the second half after going scoreless in the first half.  Foul trouble limited freshman forward Rodney Williams to just three minutes in the game and junior point guard Al Nolen to just four minutes in the second half.

Johnson and Nolen both fouled out in the final two minutes, but Hoffarber, Joseph and sophomore center Ralph Sampson III each made three free throws in that time to seal the victory.

For the fourth consecutive game, the Gophers’ shooting improved in the second half.  Minnesota shot 59 percent in the second half, including 67 percent from 3-point range.  Butler shot 33 percent for the game and made just five of 23 3-point attempts.

Bulldogs forward Matt Howard and guard Shelvin Mack tried to carry back Butler with 20 and 15 points, respectively, in the second half.  Howard made 12 of 14 free throws in the second half, and the Bulldogs were 36 of 45 from the line in the game.

The Gophers secured 27 defensive rebounds and limited Butler to just 2 points from its offensive rebounds.

The two teams combined for 38 turnovers, 56 fouls — 36 in the second half — and no fast-break points.

76 Classic Scoreboard

Games Thursday

No. 8 West Virginia 85, Long Beach State 62
Texas A&M 69, No. 19 Clemson 60
No. 22 Minnesota 82, No. 12 Butler 73
UCLA v. Portland (late)

Games Friday
No. 8 West Virginia v. Texas A&M, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
No. 19 Clemson v. Long Beach State, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
No. 22 Minnesota v. UCLA/Portland winner, 8:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
No. 12 Butler v. UCLA/Portland loser, 10:30 p.m. (ESPNU)