Men’s hoops crushes team in opener

Todd Zolecki

Gophers men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins admitted his team didn’t know much about Stephen F. Austin State University as they were heading into Saturday’s regular season opener at Williams Arena.
Don’t expect Haskins to say the same thing during the Big Ten season or when going up against upcoming nonconference foes like Alabama or West Virginia, which the Gophers play Tuesday night at Target Center. But Minnesota’s lack of preparation didn’t seem to matter Saturday. The Gophers handed the Lumberjacks a convincing 101-55 loss in front of 12,841 fans.
Those in attendance watched the Gophers dominate all aspects of the game and provide some amazing dunks, which brought the crowd to its feet.
Lumberjacks coach Derek Allister was impressed, though he expected it. His brother, Mark, teaches English at St. Olaf and provides him updates on the Gophers’ happenings.
“They’re just way better than we are,” Allister said. An assistant at Stephen F. Austin the past three seasons before he became head coach this year, Allister said the Gophers looked better than the UCLA team the Lumberjacks played last year.
“This is a team which will go deep in the (NCAA) tournament and do well,” he said.
For the first few minutes, the Gophers didn’t play like a high caliber team. Both teams exchanged turnovers before the Gophers quickly overcame its season opening jitters and pounced on the Lumberjacks. Minnesota used a 21-3 run to build a 28-13 first-half lead.
“It was possibly nerves,” Gophers center John Thomas. “Those things go fine during practice. We were all hyped up to play this first game. There’s no excuse for that.”
The Gophers committed 23 turnovers, much higher than they want, but other aspects of the game made up for any shortcomings handling the ball.
“Harris’ play really surprised me,” Allister said. “We didn’t think he could shoot the ball like he shot it.”
Harris finished with 16 points, second only to Bobby Jackson in scoring, making seven of nine field goal attempts. Haskins said Harris has shot the ball better than anyone on the team since practice started more than a month ago.
“He worked on his shot this summer and it’s showing,” Jackson agreed. “He’s just got to keep it up. He’s going to be a big key for us down the stretch.”
The Gophers starting backcourt, Jackson (23 points) and Harris, accounted for almost 40 percent of the team’s total scoring. The duo also played a big role in Minnesota’s defensive efforts.
The Gophers pressure defense shut down the Lumberjacks offensively. It forced Stephen F. Austin to shoot 22 percent from the floor, missing 56 of 72 field goal attempts.
That was quite a turnaround from the Gophers’ two previous exhibition performances, when Haskins expressed his displeasure about his team’s defensive effort. His message has reached his players.
The Gophers never let up their intensity: Even when the game was in hand late in the second half they went on a 26-0 run. The Lumberjacks didn’t score for more than six minutes. They broke the run by hitting a free throw with 28 seconds remaining.
“Coach’s style is pressure defense,” Jackson said. “We try to get up in everybody’s face. We don’t care who it is. We want to pressure them all night and make them turn the ball over. Turnovers turn into points. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

GAME SUMMARY
Stephen F. Austin 23 32 — 55
Gophers 46 55 — 101

SCORING — James 5-7 3-4 13, Jacobson 4-9 0-0 9, J. Thomas 4-8 3-6 11, Jackson 9-20 2-2 23, Harris 7-9 0-2 16, Lewis 2-4 3-4 8, Winter 1-2 2-2 4, C. Thomas 2-6 7-7 11, Tarver 1-2 0-0 2, Archambault 1-3 2-2 4, Ja. Stanford 0-0 0-0 0, Je. Stanford 0-0 0-0 0, Stauber 0-1 0-0 0.
REBOUDNING — J. Thomas 17, James 8, Jacobson 6, Jackson 6, Tarver 5, Harris 4, C. Thomas 4, Winter 3, Archambault 2, Winter 1, C. Thomas 1, Stauber 1.