Puchtel picks apart Killingsworth on D

Robert Mews

Shutting down Indiana seemed improbable with Indiana’s offense, and Minnesota’s men’s basketball’s lack of it.

Yet a lineup switch that brought junior Zach Puchtel into the starting lineup gave the Gophers uncertainty against Indiana, and the change was one that may have been the key to a big upset over the Hoosiers on Sunday at Williams Arena.

Yet, the decision to start the 6-foot-6 forward in place of sophomore Spencer Tollackson was not made until Saturday.

Coach Dan Monson said Puchtel had earned his starting nod by playing “so much harder” than the other players.

Furthermore, the move was made as a defensive adjustment, not an offensive one. And it’s one that would have him guarding Indiana’s Marco Killingsworth, a big, physical forward who leads Indiana in scoring and rebounding.

“I thought that Monson did the best thing that any coach could do,” Indiana coach Mike Davis said. “And that was, play some guys that want to come out and play with effort and intensity.”

Puchtel’s numbers ” 12 points, five rebounds ” might suggest otherwise, but the forward was able to match Killingsworth’s physical play from the get-go. That, along with Killingsworth committing two early fouls, helped take the 6-foot-8 forward out of the game.

“It hurt us when Marco picked up his second foul,” Davis said. “That was a stretch where we had no idea what we were doing.”

After Killingsworth’s second foul, the Gophers went on a 15-2 run.

Whether Killingsworth was in or out, the physical presence of Puchtel and the rest of the Gophers was apparent, as Indiana was only able to score eight points in the paint during the first half.

“I play physical; I play hard, and you know, I mentally frustrated people,” Puchtel said.

His tough play in the paint forced Indiana to take outside shots, and the Gophers never looked back after Killingsworth’s early foul problems.

“There is no one this year that guarded Marco like that; there’s no one,” Davis said. “Marco has played in games where guys have fouled him and been real dirty and grabbing him and throwing him down.

“And this guy (Puchtel) was so clean, it was embarrassing.”