Gophers eke out a win over St. Cloud State in exhibition

With all eyes on Minnesota’s five newcomers, it was a couple of returners that saved the Gophers from an embarrassing exhibition loss. The Gophers’ top four scorers were all returning players, led by Al Nolen, Jr., who finished with a would-be career-high 18 points as the Gophers beat Division-II St. Cloud State 88-80 Monday. Taking advantage of their exhibition season-opener, the Gophers started three of those newcomers — Colton Iverson, Ralph Sampson III and Paul Carter. Devron Bostick and Devoe Jospeph both played more than 12 minutes. But they combined for just 29 points, and turned the ball over a collective nine times. “That’s the difference between guys who have been in the system for a year, and guys who are still learning,” head coach Tubby Smith said. Nolen, who averaged just 4.3 points per game last year, went 7-for-11 from the field and even led the team in rebounding, which, as a point guard, coach Tubby Smith wasn’t thrilled about. Nolen also led the team in turnovers, with six, but said it was a result of the new player’s learning Smith’s complex offensive system. “At this point, I know we don’t know each other very well,” Nolen said. “As I was turning the ball over, I was talking to the guys and telling them where I wanted them to be. I really don’t have a problem right now with turning the ball over, and I won’t be turning it over come regular season. The Gophers, who have branded themselves as a defense-oriented team, gave up 49 points in the first half. They trailed several times in the first half, and briefly in the second half, before the returning quartet of Nolen, Blake Hoffarber, Lawrence Westbrook and Travis Busch took over. They combined to score the team’s first 12 points of the second half, as Minnesota built a lead as big as 16. Westbrook finished with 15 points, Busch with 13 and Hoffarber with 11. With as many new players as the Gophers will play this year, Busch said the returning players will have to take on bigger scoring roles early in the year. “Any time you can get four guys in double figures, it takes the pressure off other people,” Busch said. “You don’t have to rely on somebody to score big every night.” Center Colton Iverson led all newcomers with seven points, but had just three rebounds and turned the ball over twice. “It’s a hard system to pick up right away,” Busch said. “I struggled with it last year, but I’m feeling more comfortable with it this year. It’s just about progression and maturity.”