Men’s hoops beats No. 10 Clemson

Todd Zolecki

One reason the Gophers men’s basketball team didn’t make the NCAA tournament last season was because it lacked wins against quality nonconference opponents. It beat teams like Bethune, Cookman and Mercer, but lost to talented teams like California, Cincinnati and Clemson.
Heading into this year the Gophers knew they would have to earn victories against some top caliber teams. And their first chance was Sunday night against No. 10 Clemson in the San Juan Shootout championship game in Caguas, Puerto Rico.
Clemson is one of the teams which kept us out of the NCAA tournament,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said before the game. “So hopefully the guys will remember that when the game starts, so we can really take it to them.”
No. 24 Minnesota did just that. It upset the Tigers 75-65 behind strong efforts from tournament MVP Eric Harris and all-tournament player Sam Jacobson.
Even before the Gophers stepped onto the court Sunday Haskins felt good about how things were going for his team.
“No doubt about it,” Haskins said. “It’s really working out the way we wanted it. We wanted to try to win the first two ball games and get in the championship round against them.”
Harris continued to shoot the ball well. He had a team-high 17 points against Clemson and averaged 14 points in the tournament. Through the season’s first five games he’s averaging 15 points per contest.
He sank four free throws to seal the victory in the game’s closing minute. Minnesota built an 13-point lead before the Tigers used their 3-point shooting to come within seven points.
The Gophers led at halftime 25-20 and had a six-point lead early in the second half before sophomore Quincy Lewis scored seven straight points to make the score 38-27.
Lewis’ 3-pointer, sandwiched between a pair of field goals, sparked a 14-2 run, which gave Minnesota a 42-29 lead with 11:31 minutes remaining.
Harris and Jacobson both came up with big baskets down the stretch, preventing Clemson from getting close.
But the Gophers almost didn’t get to the championship game. It barely beat Creighton 64-63 Saturday in the game’s closing seconds.
Harris made a jump shot with four seconds left to give Minnesota the win.
“Eric is just doing a great job,” Haskins said. “He’s giving us great play. What can I say? He’s taking the ball to the basket. He’s taking shots and quarterbacking the team.”
Jacobson led the Gophers against Creighton with 17 points. Center John Thomas scored 15.
Haskins said the Bluejays gave Minnesota everything he had hoped for during the weekend. Creighton pressured the Gophers and held a one-point lead with 11 seconds left.
“The thing you look for as a coach is if you can execute against pressure,” Haskins said. “We did a great job against that. We counteracted against all those things.”
Minnesota had no trouble Friday against tournament host Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. The Gophers overcame a slow start before running away with a 104-62 win.
John Thomas set a career-high with 21 points. Five other Gophers (Courtney James, Jacobson, Quincy Lewis, Bobby Jackson and Harris) also scored in double figures.
“I just want to make sure they’re getting better every day out,” Haskins said. “For us to get better as a team everybody needs to play and have a key role in the game.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do as does every team this time of year. We came here just to play basketball. We’re working two-a-days and we’re working hard at it. We’re getting a lot out of it.”

GAME SUMMARY
Clemson 20 45 — 65
Gophers 25 50 — 75

SCORING — Archmabault 0-0 0-0 0, James 4-5 1-9 9, Jacobson 4-7 5-8 14, J.Thomas 1-2 3-6 5, Lewis 3-4 0-0 7, Jackson 2-7 4-4 9, Harris 4-8 8-10 17, C.Thomas 3-5 2-2 10, Tarver 1-2 0-0 2, Winter 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-41 23-39 75.