Gophers rebound to get win

by Zach Eisendrath

It was a reversal of fortune for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team Tuesday night.

When junior point guard Limar Wilson stood at the free-throw line in game’s final seconds, the game was already decided, but Wilson calmly nailed both of his attempts from the charity stripe.

And it was Central Florida coach Kirk Speraw, not Gophers interim coach Jim Molinari, screaming at his team to stop watching the ball and grab it.

Minnesota never trailed as they defeated Central Florida 74-63 at Williams Arena.

The Gophers were led by junior forward Dan Coleman, who scored a career-high 29 points. But, more importantly, his 10 rebounds gave him his first career double-double.

Minnesota’s newfound rebounding abilities were on display from the start of the game.

After keeping pace with the Golden Knights for over six minutes, Minnesota held Central Florida (6-1, 0-0 Conference USA) without a field goal for 9:16 and went on a 16-0 run to ease into a 36-21 halftime lead.

“I thought the whole defensive effort in the first half was strong – and that includes rebounding,” Molinari said.

But the Gophers’ stifling defense in the first half was overshadowed by, of all things, its rebounding dominance.

After only 16 total rebounds in Saturday’s loss to Arkansas-Little Rock, Minnesota (5-7 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) already had eclipsed that mark with 7:19 remaining in the half. For the game, the Gophers out-rebounded Central Florida 42-30.

Molinari said his team’s sudden rebounding improvement was because he stopped teaching and emphasized taking action instead.

From the onset, it was clear Minnesota wouldn’t allow itself to be pounded on the glass and it showed on the scoreboard.

On the first play of the game junior center Spencer Tollackson, who had a game-high 11 rebounds, grabbed two offensive boards to convert a three-point play.

The Gophers, who had just three offensive boards on Saturday, had five of them eight minutes into the game.

But Central Florida was able to stay with Minnesota and cut a 15-point deficit to eight, with less than seven minutes to play.

Coleman was there to answer, however. He scored six of the Gophers’ next eight points as they pushed their lead back to 17 with four minutes left.

Coleman’s tenth double-digit scoring performance in twelve games was important, but the emergence of other scoring threats was also key.

With junior guard Lawrence McKenzie – Minnesota’s leading scorer entering the game – unable to find an offensive rhythm, others helped shoulder the scoring load.

After struggling in recent games, sophomore guard Jamal Abu-Shamala looked just fine on Tuesday. Abu-Shamala knocked down 3-of-4 three-pointers.

“I just said to myself, ‘If I get an open look, I’m shooting it and I’m just going to put it up and try and get some confidence back,’ ” he said.

Even freshman guard Lawrence Westbrook, thought to have been out of Molinari’s rotation, provided a spark with six points off the bench in nine minutes.

Now, after a chaotic past two weeks – during which the Gophers played 10 games in 22 days, while dealing with two coaching changes – they should be able to enjoy their break.

“It’s huge to have momentum going into the break,” Coleman said. “You don’t want to have a bad taste going into a road game, especially UNLV Ö now I think people feel a little bit better.”