With less than three minutes remaining and a commanding 33-point lead, Minnesota’s men’s basketball coach Dan Monson was able to perform a task he hasn’t done much this season: He cleared his bench.
After struggling to build large leads against second-tier schools in their last three home games, the Gophers only allowed Long Beach State a sliver of early hope before routing the 49ers 88-58 on Tuesday night at Williams Arena.
Despite beating Western Illinois by 22 points Saturday, Minnesota didn’t pull away until midway through the second half.
Not so on Tuesday night against Long Beach State (1-4), which has now lost its last 19 games on the road.
“This was a step in the right direction,” Monson said. “But we have a lot of steps left to go.”
The Gophers (4-2) built a nine-point halftime lead before opening the second half with a mission.
The story of the game was Kris Humphries. The forward again led the Gophers, tallying 28 points and 12 rebounds in only 26 minutes of action.
Humphries scored eight of the Gophers first 11 points to start the second half.
In addition, Minnesota went on a 19-3 run to turn a 54-40 lead into a 73-43 cushion, and a possible comeback into an insurmountable deficit.
Long Beach State, which was overmatched from the beginning, tried guarding Humphries with either an undersized forward or a taller but lankier post player.
Neither strategy worked.
Humphries found himself with two options: either shoot over or work around his defender.
He did both.
“I was good in stretches,” Humphries said. “It was up and down at times.”
Added 49ers coach Larry Reynolds, “Humphries was tough for us to guard.”
But the most important element from the win was not starting any bad habits.
Monson said earlier this season that the preseason is meant to build team confidence and unity.
On Tuesday, the Gophers showed their practice is paying off.
Minnesota only had six turnovers, including none by Humphries or Michael Bauer. In addition, the Gophers passed on taking shots they likely wouldn’t have in a Big Ten game.
“It’s hard because we got stuff so easily,” said guard Ben Johnson, who added 11 points. “We had to pay attention.”
The Gophers opened the game less than impressive. After building an early seven point lead, Minnesota found itself trailing 15-11.
This concerned Monson, who again saw his team struggle early in a game.
“When it’s 9-2 we have to have a sense to make it 18-2, not 12-9,” Monson said.
Humphries, who missed his first four shots, reeled off 10 consecutive points for the Gophers on the tail end of a 19-8 run as Minnesota reclaimed the lead for good.
Bauer notched 11 points and Moe Hargrow added 15 points for the Gophers.
Hargrow showed signs of returning to last year’s form. The junior shot 4-for-7 from the field and played solid defense.
The Gophers face Oral Roberts on Friday night at Williams Arena. The Eagles (4-3) are not to be overlooked. They lost by only six points at Arkansas last week before defeating Tulsa.