Point guard situation still unresolved for U

by Michael Dougherty

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Oh, how Gophers men’s basketball fans must long for the days of Ariel McDonald, Townsend Orr and Eric Harris — point guards who could handle the ball, play good defense and, oh yeah, knock down a jump shot.
The Gophers don’t have that, but here’s what they do have:
Current point guard Kevin Nathaniel can handle the ball and play good defense, and if not for that pesky jump shot requirement he’d be a lock for the position.
Terrance Simmons comes off the bench to relieve Nathaniel, but he only fulfills the defensive part of the quotient. If a point guard was required to have only a 1-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Simmons might be the guy.
Mitch Ohnstad can handle the ball reasonably well and play solid defense, but he shows lapses of jump shooting prowess. He’s doesn’t appear to be the answer.
How about freshman walk-on Ryan Keating? Well, all you need to know about the graciously listed 5-foot-11 Minnetonka native is that the Michigan State student section took to chanting “Rudy, Rudy” when he was in the game, in reference to the movie about an undersized but determined football player.
So what do you do if you’re Gophers coach Clem Haskins? Good question.
In Saturday’s 89-60 loss to Ohio State at the state-of-the-art Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio, Minnesota’s biggest weakness was exploited while the Buckeyes’ strengths were showcased.
Say hello to Scoonie Penn. Haskins called Penn, a junior, one of the premier point guards in the league. And his 24 points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals proved Haskins rather insightful.
While Haskins spent the first four minutes of the blow-out looking down his bench to see who he could put in the game to neutralize Penn, his counterpart Jim O’Brien was watching his team jump out to a 21-5 lead.
Haskins has Nathaniel, Ohnstad, Simmons and Rudy. O’Brien has Penn.
“What a difference the guard play was,” Haskins said.
Here are the numbers: Penn and sophomore shooting guard Michael Redd combined for 43 points on 16-of-29 shooting, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Minnesota’s starting guards Nathaniel and Kevin Clark had nine points on 4-of-13 shooting, six rebounds and two assists.
“They had Bobby Jackson a couple of years ago, and Eric Harris last year,” Redd said, “but they are lacking one this year.”
Gophers forward Quincy Lewis often looked like the only offensive weapon out on the court thanks to a Buckeyes defense which held Clark in check.
The modest Lewis wouldn’t comment on the team’s lack of a point guard, nor would assistant coach Bill Brown, who said talking about the team’s lack of a solid point guard like Penn is unfair to his players.
Lewis, meanwhile, said it was just one of those days.
“They really kicked our butts today,” he said. “When you’ve got two great players like (Penn and Redd), they are going to have games like that.”
Penn and O’Brien played along, with both men talking about keeping their heads out of the clouds.
“Who knew we were going to win like this today?” Penn asked. “You just want to envision winning, period. You never think about winning by 15, 20 or even 30.”
O’Brien had the same cautious assessment when he was asked about his team’s great start to the season.
“When you come into the arena, you know you’d be happy with a one-point win,” O’Brien said. “I don’t want to downplay what we’ve done, but before we start to throw out too many platitudes, let’s remember we’ve had the benefit of playing five of the first seven conference games at home. So I don’t want to glorify this too much.”
Go ahead and glorify, coach; you’ve got Scoonie Penn. The Gophers have only memories.