Benching gives men’s hoops proper incentive for 89-71 win

Brian Hall

Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson knew something must be done.

The Gophers had lost two straight games, each of which they led entering the second half, and were quickly losing sight of an NCAA tournament berth.

When Big Ten-leading Ohio State came to Williams Arena Saturday, the coach changed his starting lineup, hoping to set a new tone for his team.

The third-year coach left two of his captains, point guard Kevin Burleson and third-leading scorer Michael Bauer, out of the starting lineup.

The switch must have worked.

In showing as much aggressiveness and effort as it has all season, Minnesota (11-7, 4-3 Big Ten) handed the No. 20 Buckeyes their first conference loss of the season, 89-71, in front of 13,838 at Williams Arena.

“I really challenged our three captains all week,” Monson said. “Sometimes it’s a tone you have to set of accountability. You can’t just say, ‘You have to quit doing that’ over and over again. You’ve got to take things away that really mean something.”

Prior to Saturday’s game the three captains led the team in turnovers. Monson knew the attitude adjustment must start at the top and the benching further drove home his point.

“It was a good decision by coach,” Burleson said. “He needed to do something. We haven’t been leading the team like we should have been at the end of games; we were losing focus – especially me as a point guard.”

Monson didn’t want to make changes at the expense of winning. Wanting a strong start from his team, he decided he couldn’t sit all three players.

While senior Dusty Rychart was the lone captain remaining in the starting five, it was senior Travarus Bennett who picked up the slack.

Bennett scored a career-high 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds. The 6-foot-7 swingman combined to go 12-12 from the field and line.

Yet Bennett’s hustle shined the brightest. On more than one occasion Bennett could be found hitting the floor for a loose ball or swooping in for a possible steal. One by one his teammates followed his lead.

“He was the one guy, the senior, who had to take over when I challenged the three captains,” Monson said. “Today, we don’t win without his effort and I think he was very instrumental in setting the tone for our whole team today.”

The Gophers scored the first four points of the second half but strong defensive pressure from Ohio State forced Minnesota to commit five turnovers and six fouls and led to a 21-2 Buckeyes run.

In the past the Gophers might have then struggled down the stretch, only there would be no fade on this day.

“We seem to have those runs every game,” Monson said. “We told them to get the energy back. The charging fouls were turning into blocking fouls and if we got our energy back up we would get the stops we needed.

“We got some key stops right then when it was a crucial point in the game. The game was really won when we were able to sustain the run they made.”

Minnesota started an 8-0 run when Burleson finally broke the Buckeye press and Rick Rickert threw down a fast-break dunk.

The Gophers went on to outscore the Buckeyes 43-17.

Minnesota shot 66.7 percent and scored more points than any Ohio State opponent this season.

The Gophers also held the Buckeyes without a field goal for the last 4:05 of the game.

“Today we always knew we were going to win,” Burleson said. “We had that fight.”

Due to the lineup shakeup, Bauer only played three minutes in the second half. Monson said it was due to rotations and having to lineup against the Buckeyes three-guard attack.

“He was probably the sacrificial lamb for trying to set a tone for our guys,” Monson said. “I wasn’t displeased with how any of our guys played tonight.”