Men’s hoops beats West Virginia 76-61

by Todd Zolecki

It’s only two games into the season, but it appears all those jump shots Gophers men’s basketball player Eric Harris took during the summer have paid off.
The junior point guard scored a career-high 17 points Tuesday night in Minnesota’s 76-61 victory over West Virginia in front of 16,376 at Target Center.
Harris’ shooting — and a productive night from forward Sam Jacobson and the Gophers’ bench — kept No. 24 Minnesota in the game until it pulled away in the closing minutes.
Only a year ago, Harris wasn’t the answer to the Gophers’ offensive needs. He struggled with his shot and didn’t show the leadership Coach Clem Haskins wanted.
But through his first two games he’s averaging 15.5 points per game compared to 3.5 points in his first two seasons.
During the offseason Harris said he spent countless hours shooting. He didn’t want to be an offensive liability on a team expected to challenge for the Big Ten championship.
“That was just a goal of mine,” he said. “My first two years I wouldn’t even think of shooting the ball because personally I wasn’t ready. In high school all you do is just run up and down the court and shoot layups.”
Minnesota needed a big game from Harris to offset the troubles of shooting guard Bobby Jackson on Tuesday night. The senior shot 2 of 10 from the floor and finished with eight points. He led the Gophers with 23 points in the season opening win against Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.
Haskins said Jackson is the player he’d like to see with the most points at the end of each game, but with Minnesota’s bench, it can afford to have off-nights from a starter or two.
“You’ll be on one night and you’ll be off the next, so you have to play all aspects of the game,” Harris said. “Bobby didn’t play so well, but other guys came in and stepped it up.”
A bunch of players contributed. Jacobson’s thundering dunk three minutes into the second half tied the game at 37. Minnesota gained the lead on its next score, a three-pointer by Harris.
Sophomore Quincy Lewis came off the bench in the first half and brought the Gophers back from a 10-point deficit with back-to-back baskets.
“A lot of players picked it up,” Gophers center John Thomas said, who had 15 rebounds. “It just helps out a lot. That’s what this team is all about.”
Haskins’ message of team balance appears to have has sunk in with his players.
Haskins said sophomore Charles Thomas, despite being sick, played a “gutsy” 13 minutes. Sophomore Miles Tarver did a “tremendous job.” Although he only scored one point, Tarver had five crucial rebounds.
“That’s our advantage,” Harris said. “Teams can’t be keying on one player. We’ve got a lot of players, and we’ve just got to utilize each one.”
For the second-straight game, Minnesota overcame a sluggish start. The Mountaineers built an 18-8 lead with 11 minutes left in the half before Lewis and center Trevor Winter came into the game. Winter scored a basket and had two assists in a 12-2 Gophers run.
West Virginia went into halftime up 33-32. But Minnesota came out in the second half shooting the ball better and playing better defense. The Mountaineers shot 26 percent (10 for 38) in the second half.
“We can’t beat the Sisters of the Poor shooting 26 percent in the second half,” Mountaineers coach Gale Catlett said.
The Gophers will now pack their bags and head to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the San Juan Shootout. Minnesota opens the tournament against Puerto Rico-Mayaguez on Friday.
It might work out that Minnesota will play No. 10 Clemson on Sunday afternoon.

West Virginia 33 28 — 61
Gophers 32 44 — 76

SCORING — James 2-4 2-4 6, Jacobson 7-13 2-2 16, Thomas 4-7 1-2 9, Jackson 2-10 4-4 8, Harris 6-8 4-4 17, Lewis 6-11 0-1 14, Tarver 0-2 1-4 1, Winter 1-5 0-0 2, Thomas 1-3 1-1 3, Archambault 0-2 0-0 0.
REBOUNDING — Thomas 15, James 7, Lewis 5, Tarver 5, Jacobson 4, Jackson 3, Winter 3, Harris 2, Thomas 1, Archambault 0.