Abu-Shamala’s efforts not enough for Minnesota

Sophomore guard Jamal Abu-Shamala scored a career-high 27 points.

by Zach Eisendrath

The seventh straight loss for the Minnesota men’s basketball team might have hurt the most out of any of the losses in the three-week stretch.

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The Gophers had hoped of rewarding their loyal fan base with a win in their home finale, as well as send their interim coaching staff out of Williams Arena on a high note. But those plans were quickly interrupted by a hungry Michigan team.

The Wolverines, desperate for a win to preserve their NCAA tournament aspirations, pulled away midway through the second half and beat Minnesota 62-51 on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s frustrating,” junior forward Dan Coleman said of the Gophers losing streak. “I don’t think anyone on the team has ever participated in this much adversity.

“We’re moving steps in the right direction; we’re just not going fast enough.”

For awhile, though, it looked as if Minnesota might be able to break into the win column.

Led by sophomore guard Jamal Abu-Shamala, who scored a career-high 27 points, and Coleman who finished with 14, the Gophers led by as many as five in the first half as the duo scored 28 of the Gophers’ 30 points during the first 20 minutes of action.

But that proved to be a problem for Minnesota (9-20, 3-12) in the second half, as Michigan’s defense finally started challenging Abu-Shamala on the perimeter in the second half. Abu-Shamala went 2-of-7 from the floor in the second half after starting the game a perfect 6-of-6.

Other scoring options were needed at that point, but nobody else could step up. Junior guard Lawrence McKenzie, who averages a team-high 16 points per game coming into the game, went 0-for-10 from the field and didn’t score a point for the first time this season.

Gophers interim coach Jim Molinari said McKenzie might have lost confidence after the Wolverines stifled him early, and he could never get going because of the pressure.

“Obviously that’s hard for us to overcome, but I can’t take anything away from Lawrence, he’s played at such a high level in a tough situation,” Molinari said. “I think he’s had an incredible year up to this point, just today he struggled.”

Eventually, without multiple scoring threats, Minnesota’s offense went south in the second half – going scoreless for over nine minutes in the second half – and Michigan (19-10, 7-7) extended a three-point halftime lead up to 15 and kept their hopes of an NCAA tournament at-large bid alive.

Part of the reason the Gophers struggled offensively was their lack of an inside game against the lengthy Wolverines. Those on the Minnesota squad not named Abu-Shamala and Coleman combined for a measly 10 points.

“We just had a hard time getting a basket against Michigan,” Molinari said. “I think you’ve got to credit their defense.”

Molinari admitted after the game his team might finally be wearing down after all it’s had to deal with this season. For that reason, Molinari took out all five of his starters less than two minutes into the game and replaced them with five fresh players.

Abu-Shamala was one of those fresh players and he ignited the Gophers by scoring the team’s first 13 points, but Minnesota didn’t make enough plays down the stretch.

“It’s tough. No matter how good I play, I always want to win over anything. To end like this, especially the last home game, it’s definitely frustrating,” Abu-Shamala said.

While it’s too late to save this season, the Gophers might understand what they need to do to win in the Big Ten.

After competing hard in five games against NCAA tournament-caliber teams in the last two weeks, the Gophers seem to know they need to finish games better to pick up victories.

“We’ve got to pull a couple of these out of there,” Coleman said. “We’re getting to the peak, but we’re just not going over it and making big plays when we need to, to secure a win.”