Gophers rout after sluggish start

Minnesota scored 16 straight to start the second half.

by Marco LaNave

If the Gophers menâÄôs basketball team showed one thing Monday night, it was that theyâÄôve got depth. Non-starters combined for 35 second-half points, and No. 24 Minnesota rode a second-half breakaway to an 82-42 victory over Stephen F. Austin at Williams Arena. âÄúTonight was impressive âÄî the flow of the second half, the way we substituted,âÄù Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúOur bench is going to be critical [this season], and I know we have 10 solid players.âÄù Freshman forward Rodney Williams Jr. was the highlight of the bench effort. He scored 6 points during a 16-0 run in the first four minutes of the second half and scored 11 points in the final 20 minutes of the game. Williams started the second half at the small forward position, where Smith said Williams seemed more comfortable. The Gophers scored nine points off of six Lumberjacks turnovers in the second-half opening run and led by no fewer than 20 the rest of the night. âÄúOur defensive intensity picked up and allowed us to get easy baskets,âÄù said senior guard Lawrence Westbrook, who scored eight points during the 16-0 stretch. The defense allowed the Gophers to pull away from a first-half stalemate. The Gophers and Lumberjacks combined for 20 turnovers in the first half, and neither team scored during a 4:42 stretch that kept Minnesota leading 17-16. Out of a timeout with 2:58 remaining in the half, Williams and senior forward Damian Johnson forced the Lumberjacks into consecutive jump-ball situations that gave the Gophers possession. On MinnesotaâÄôs ensuing possession, Johnson found Williams open for his first basket of the night to break the scoring drought. Johnson had another steal on the next Stephen F. Austin possession, and WestbrookâÄôs resulting layup made it 22-16. Sophomore forward Ralph Sampson III extended the lead with a jumper and an authoritative dunk with five seconds to go in the half. To start the second half, Johnson poked the ball away for yet another steal and threw an alley-oop pass to Williams for the first of his three second-half dunks. âÄú[His teammates] see it every day, so he does get them excited; he gets me excited when heâÄôs in the game,âÄù Smith said. âÄúIt helps that heâÄôs a very fun young man to be around.âÄù Smith said after the game that he will look closely at keeping Williams in the starting lineup. âÄúHe does add some quickness and more athleticism to us when heâÄôs on the court âĦ in that front line,âÄù Smith said. Johnson scored all 11 of his points in the second half, and sophomore guard Devoe Joseph had 9 of his 15 in the second half as well. The Gophers shot 61 percent in the second half. âÄúI think we were a lot more patient on offense; we were finding a lot better looks,âÄù Joseph said. Although the Lumberjacks, who made the NCAA tournament last season, forced the Gophers into 11 first-half turnovers, they couldnâÄôt keep up with MinnesotaâÄôs second-half explosion. âÄúTheyâÄôre athletic and fast in their own right, but I think our skill level wore them down after awhile,âÄù Westbrook said.