Shorthanded Gophers struggle to weekend win

by Michael Dougherty

Rarely in November does a team start to take a look at what things will be like next year, but that’s what the Gophers men’s basketball team was forced to do in Saturday’s lethargic 68-59 win over Winthrop.
After coach Clem Haskins suspended seniors Quincy Lewis and Kevin Clark, the Minnesota’s starting lineup included two freshmen and two sophomores.
On Wednesday the Big Ten sent Haskins a tape of the fight during the Nov. 16 exhibition game with the Philippines National Team. Upon reviewing the video, Haskins determined Lewis and Clark’s involvement warranted suspensions.
So with 52 percent of the team’s offense watching the game from the locker room, Haskins was forced to give sophomores Kevin Nathaniel and Mitch Onhstad and freshman Dusty Rychart their first starts as Gophers.
Nathaniel and Ohnstad responded with 15 and 16 points respectively, providing Minnesota with a little spark in a game which needed an inferno to keep the fans interested.
Winthrop, a small school located in South Carolina, shot 36 percent from the field and had 20 turnovers. The Gophers, meanwhile, contributed to the ugliness with 19 turnovers of their own, while shooting 11-of-23 from the free throw line.
Freshman Joel Przybilla scored nine points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots, but played only 15 minutes because of foul trouble. He picked up two quick fouls before the game was three minutes old, and spent the rest of the half on the bench.
“That (foul trouble) comes from inexperience and youth, and that’s why he’s not ready to do the job every night,” Haskins said. “I know some of our media has got him in the NBA already, but that’s ridiculous. I sometimes question their IQ.”
Haskins said with the loss of Lewis and Clark, the game was closer than many would have thought. He added with the drop of scholarships nationwide from 15 to 13, the days of 20- and 30-point blowouts are over.
“It gives everybody the chance to have a good ball club even if you haven’t heard of them, like Winthrop tonight,” Haskins said. “The credit goes to them for keeping the half-court game in the plan, controlling the tempo and not letting us get in a running game.”
The Gophers’ weak transition game, however, lies more with their lack of a true point guard and the loss of Lewis and Clark than it does with the Winthrop team’s aptitude.
Haskins has said point guard is the biggest question mark of this team right now, and he continues to look for answers.
He tried Nathaniel, Ohnstad, Terrance Simmons and walk-on Ryan Keating as a four-headed, floor-leading monster on Saturday, but the monster could have turned people to stone with some of the ugly play.
Simmons (5) and Ohnstad (4) turned the ball over nine times, but Ohnstad did dish out five assists. Nathaniel, meanwhile, was effective but unspectacular.
“Kevin Nathaniel is not pretty, but he’s one of those guys that you don’t want to play against for 40 minutes because he wears on you,” Haskins said. “He makes things happen.”
Ohnstad said he’s comfortable at either point guard or shooting guard, adding the point guard-by-committee approach can work.
“I think we’re all going to be capable of running the point,” Ohnstad said. “In our system we’ve got two guards who share responsibilities, so it’s not a big deal who is playing the point.”
Eagles coach Gregg Marshall said both Ohnstad and Nathaniel were effective at the point, but he suggested Simmons might be better suited for shooting guard.
Haskins agreed.
“Simmons is a scorer, and he’s more comfortable shooting the ball,” he said. “He’s having some physical problems at the present time that we don’t like to talk about, and he’s kind of got an ugly looking shot, but he makes that shot everyday in practice.
“You’ll find that he can score points if we give him a chance at the (shooting guard) spot.”