Gophers entertain Division II national champion in final exhibition game

Minnesota defeated Division II Bemidji State 88-32 last Friday.

Zach Eisendrath

Last Friday, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team received an appetizer in the form of Bemidji State.

But the Gophers will get a full-course meal tonight when they host Division II national champion Winona State in their final exhibition game of the season. The game starts at 7 p.m. at Williams Arena.

Junior guards Limar Wilson and Lawrence McKenzie – Minnesota’s projected starting backcourt – are both listed as day-to-day with minor, undisclosed injuries.

The duo sat out Friday’s exhibition game but practiced on a limited basis Saturday, according to coach Dan Monson.

Junior center Spencer Tollackson said it would be nice to have both players back in the lineup as quickly as possible, but on a deep team such as Minnesota, the team needs to stay focused and move on.

“It does hurt a little bit to not have those guys out there,” he said. “Just because Lawrence and Limar are great players and we are going to need them to play some huge significant minutes for us this year.”

Usually for a team that resides in a power conference such as the Big Ten, a Division II opponent would be of little concern.

But the Warriors, out of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, clearly have the Gophers’ attention.

“Anytime you’re a national champion, it’s a team that has all the ingredients for successes,” Monson said. “They have good players, they’ve got a good coach and they’ve got a lot of character.”

Winona State returns four starters from last year’s championship squad, including last year’s Division II Player of the Year, forward John Smith.

The junior averaged 16.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game last season.

In the Warriors’ Wednesday exhibition game against Bradley – which went to the Elite Eight in last season’s NCAA Tournament – Smith poured in 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Monson said Smith could play for any Division I team in the country.

After walking all over the undersized Beavers in the paint on Friday, the Gophers should face much stiffer competition inside from Winona State.

Tollackson said going up against a talented frontcourt is a good thing, because Minnesota will need to rely heavily on its big men this year.

With the Warriors expected to bring a large amount of fan support, Tollackson said the Gophers’ final tune-up should have a regular season feel to it.

Sophomore center Jonathan Williams said Minnesota can’t sleep on any teams this year.

“We don’t look past any team,” he said. “If they put five guys on the court that can play and they play hard enough, they can win at any given time.”

Tollackson said Winona State should be a good test for the Gophers’ defense, which he called the key to the team this year.

“If we can stop people, we’re going to win a lot of games,” Tollackson said.

Monson played all his healthy players Friday night, but said he will not likely do the same tonight.

He said he wants to start letting players know what their roles will be on the team.

“Gradually you begin defining those roles and I think (tonight) will be a progression in that area,” he said.

“We are hoping to get a lot out of (tonight) and know what we have to do before Monday (against North Dakota State).”