Men’s basketball struggles, holds off Bulldogs 67-59

Anthony Maggio

Five minutes into Minnesota’s men’s basketball team’s 67-59 victory over Minnesota-Duluth, it looked like the Bulldogs were in for a long evening.

Dusty Rychart’s 10 points, and the Gophers up-tempo pace opened up a 16-8 lead befitting of the state’s only Division I program.

But Division II Minnesota-Duluth slowed things down and gave every indication it was at Williams Arena to play.

“We want to compete every single time we’re playing a game,” Bulldogs coach Gary Holquist said. “I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think we were going to come in here and win the game, because that’s the nature of athletics.”

After trailing early, the Bulldogs began to expose Minnesota’s youth and lack of chemistry with hustle plays, tough baskets and all-out effort.

Minnesota-Duluth went on an efficient 10 minute, 14-4 run midway through the first half to take a 22-20 lead.

The Gophers responded with a spurt of their own, but fell apart defensively allowing eight points over the final two minutes. Minnesota went into halftime clinging to a slim 32-30 advantage.

“(Minnesota-Duluth) had something to prove,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “They certainly proved something to me and a lot of people.”

When the teams took the floor for the second half, fans began to realize it would be a close game after all, and the Barn got noisier with every play.

The Gophers and Bulldogs traded baskets to start the half, and Minnesota-Duluth took its first lead of the second half with 12:27 left to play at 44-42.

The Bulldogs led by as many as seven when sophomore guard Matt Williams hit a three-pointer to go up 51-44 with 10:08 left.

But Minnesota tightened up and allowed only one basket over the next four minutes.

“Our team stayed together a lot better tonight than a week ago,” Monson said. “A week ago we would have lost this basketball game.”

Minnesota-Duluth wouldn’t quit, however, and took the lead 59-57 with 3:27 to go.

The Bulldogs 59th point would be their last, however, as they missed the first shot of a one-and-one twice in the final two minutes to close the door on themselves.

The Gophers scored the game’s final 12 points to put on the finishing touch.

“We weren’t expecting them to make a game of it,” Rychart said. “They wanted the game more than we did. You’ve got to give them credit, they played really hard.”

Rychart led the way for the Gophers with 17 points. Jerry Holman added 13, while Rick Rickert and Michael Bauer chipped in 10 apiece.

Guard Jake Nettleon forward Chris Stanley both tallied double figures for Minnesota-Duluth, scoring 13 and 12 points, respectively.

Because of Minnesota-Duluth’s experienced athletes, Monson was not disappointed in his players. Rather, he was happy with the way his team came together at the end to put away the pesky Bulldogs.

But guard Kevin Burleson knows the Gophers must play better on Saturday when the regular season begins.

“If we play like that,” he said, “we’re going to finish last in the Big Ten.”

Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected]