Minnesota’s men’s basketball team plays Florida State on national television tonight.
But it’s a big game for different reasons.
When the Gophers (2-2) take on the Seminoles (2-3) at 6:30 p.m. today at Williams Arena in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, coaches and players alike said, it’s vital to set the tone for the rest of the season.
“We’re coming off two tough losses,” senior captain Brent Lawson said. “We’re looking at it as a big game, because we’ve got to get back on track and show people what we’re all about.”
Those two tough losses came against Alabama and Oklahoma, and after Minnesota held early leads, it was unable to hold on in the Great Alaska Shootout.
Lawson said the team realizes that beating Florida State, which has also lost two straight games, is a major factor in determining how the team will play the rest of the year.
Florida State dropped games to Kent State and Texas Christian in last weekend’s Corpus Christi Caller-Times Challenge by scores of 69-59 and 71-70, respectively.
And although most Gophers are unaware of what the Seminoles will bring to the table, there does seem to be a consensus that the way they perform tonight will determine the entire season.
“I don’t really know much about Florida State – we just have to play tough defense and be smart with the ball,” said junior Vincent Grier, Minnesota’s leading scorer at 19 points per game. “It’s a big game, so we’ve got to play with a lot of intensity.”
Grier, who was named to the all-tournament team at the Great Alaska Shootout, will have to hope his team doesn’t get worn out by the Seminoles.
While the Gophers generally have only played an eight-man rotation, 11 Seminoles players average more than 15 minutes per game.
And yet, all of that doesn’t seem to matter to most Gophers – there’s a must-win attitude firmly etched in their minds.
“We were happy with how we played against Alabama, and we fought really hard,” Lawson said. “But we took a step back against Oklahoma, and we can’t let that happen again.”
And Gophers coach Dan Monson, with lagging attendance numbers hanging ominously over his head, said he realizes impressing the hometown crowd tonight is important.
“It’s our first home game versus a known quality opponent,” Monson said. “We started to play how we want to in Alaska, but nobody saw that. Tomorrow is a big game to set the tone for our fans and to show them how we’re going to play.”