Wildcats surprise U in opener

by Murali Balaji

As point guard Terrance Simmons’ last-gasp shot bounced off the backboard, the Gophers found themselves in a position they had been in only once before this season.
In a game that was about as thrilling as an 80s horror movie, the Gophers (9-2) lost their Big Ten opener 58-55 against the Northwestern Wildcats (8-3), a team that prides itself on being a one-man show.
That one man is sixth-year senior center Evan Eschmeyer, a 6-foot-11 bull playing on a pair of surgically-repaired knees. Eschmeyer, frustrated by constant double- and triple-teaming throughout the game, took the Gophers’ attempts to be physical and shoved it down their throats with a 24-point, 15-rebound effort.
“Esch put us on his back,” Northwestern coach Kevin O’Neill said. “He just wouldn’t let us lose.”
Eschmeyer, finding little help from his own teammates, got plenty from a woeful Gophers’ offense that shot 19-for-61 from the floor. The Gophers’ inability to put the ball in the bucket was displayed in an inept five-minute stretch in the first-half, when the team was held scoreless.
Gophers’ forward Quincy Lewis was the lone bright spot on offense, scoring 19 points. Guard Kevin Clark added 14, but the team got only minimal contributions from other players.
“We just didn’t execute all game,” Lewis admitted. But it went beyond execution, and as the game wore on, the difference between the two teams was persistence.
“We got beat by a very good ball club tonight,” Gophers’ coach Clem Haskins said. “(Eschmeyer) is the man. We had no one that could do anything with him.”
So much for the much-hyped Eschmeyer-Joel Przybilla matchup. The Gophers’ freshman center, despite getting help from his teammates in the post, was simply shoved around in the second-half, fouling out with 49.6 seconds left.
The Gophers could have sent all five players on the court to guard Eschmeyer, but it would have been to no avail. He simply broke down Minnesota’s post defense, while creating outside jumpshot opportunities for guards Sean Wink (12 points) and David Newman.
“We didn’t want to jump (the double teams),” O’Neill said. “We wanted to let the double-team happen, so Esch could get the ball outside.”
Wink and Newman, who look more like waterboys than Big Ten basketball players, buried the Gophers with a barrage of three-pointers to start the second half, opening up a five-point halftime lead into 43-32 margin. The Gophers got some momentum back after a Clark three-pointer and forward Miles Tarver’s lay-up, but the Wildcats never relinquished control of the ballgame.
If the Gophers need to pinpoint the cause of their downfall, they only need to look at one key statistic: 31 percent from the floor.
“Shooting is critical,” Haskins said. “They did a good job on defense, but we really didn’t get our feet set.”

Wildcats 25 33 — 58
Gophers 20 35 — 55
MINNESOTA (9-2, 0-1)
Lewis 7-22 5-5 19, Tarver 1-4 3-3, Przybilla 1-2 3-6 5, Clark 5-13 0-2 14, Nathaniel 2-6 0-1 4, Ohnstad 2-7 2-2 6, Simmons 0-5 0-0 0, Stanford 0-0 0-0 0, Broxsie 0-0 0-0 0, Sanden 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 19-61 13-19 55.
Newman 1-3 0-0 3, Hardy 2-6 1-3 5, Eschmeyer 6-14 12-14 24, Bonner 0-1 0-1 0, Wink 4-10 0-0 12, Harmsen 0-0 0-0 0, Allouche 0-3 0-0 0, Lepore 3-4 0-2 9, Pomeday 1-1 0-0 3, Molnar 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 18-43 13-20 58.
3-point goals — Minnesota 4-15 (Clark 4-8, Ohnstad 0-3, Lewis 0-2, Simmons 0-2), Northwestern 9-20 (Wink 4-10, Lepore 3-4, Newman 1-3, Allouche 0-2, Pomeday 1-1). Rebounds — Minnesota 35 (Tarver 8), Northwestern (Eschmeyer 15). Assists — Minnesota 12 (Lewis, Ohnstad 3), Northwestern 15 (Bonner 6). Blocked shots — Minnesota 7 (Przybilla 5), Northwestern 4 (Hardy 2). Turnovers — Minnesota 6 (Broxsie 2), Northwestern 14 (Bonner 4). Total fouls — Minnesota 20, Northwestern 21. A — 14,583.