Coleman leads Gophers again to easy win

Minnesota routed Southwest Baptist 86-59 in its final exhibition game.

Minnesota guard Andre Hollins tries to gain possession of the ball in the game against Southwest Baptist on Monday at the Williams Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa

Minnesota guard Andre Hollins tries to gain possession of the ball in the game against Southwest Baptist on Monday at the Williams Arena.

Andrew Krammer

Amid all the questions asked about the hyped Gophers men’s basketball team this year, sophomore guard Joe Coleman has emerged as an answer.

On Monday Minnesota trounced its second Division II opponent in a row, this time undoing Southwest Baptist 86-59 at Williams Arena to end its exhibition schedule.

Coleman led all scorers with 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting, giving the combo guard 36 points in two exhibition games for the Gophers.

“There’s always going to be the nights where you’re not going to score,” Coleman said. “With the team we have, anyone could be the guy.”

During the Gophers’ only two exhibition games, Coleman’s been the guy.

The sophomore dwarfs Minnesota’s next top scorer, Rodney Williams, who has combined for 21 points in two games.

Coach Tubby Smith said he expected this type of production from Coleman.

“He’s a kid that’s committed,” Smith said. “Not that other guys aren’t. But he’s really a guy that puts in energy, effort and time.”

The team’s star forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Williams played on the court together for the first time this season  Monday.

Williams scored 13 points and added eight rebounds, but more impressively, he had zero turnovers.

Mbakwe, still nursing his right knee from a torn anterior cruciate ligament last year, was wearing a brace again on the knee and had his right wrist wrapped up from a blister he incurred during practice.

The 23-year-old only had one field goal attempt in the game, but his one-handed dunk ignited the announced crowd of 8,654 at Williams Arena.

“It felt good to finally get one out,” Mbakwe said. “I can’t wait until the regular season to get the frustration out when the games really count.”

Mbakwe didn’t enter the game until midway through the first half, but he finished with three points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a turnover in 11 minutes.

The sixth-year big man said his knee is not back to form just yet.

“It’s still coming along,” Mbakwe said. “[I] just continue to work on my explosiveness, kind of getting it back day by day.”

Gophers guard Austin Hollins said exhibition games are more like practice for Minnesota.

Fortunately for Smith’s squad, it has an entire non-conference schedule to work out the many kinks that two Division II teams have exposed during this year’s exhibition slate.

“The thing we were most concerned about is taking care of the basketball,” Smith said.

Minnesota followed up its 14-turnover performance last Thursday with 17 turnovers Monday, including 10 in the first half. No one player was to blame, as five Gophers players had two or more turnovers.

Southwest Baptist also took advantage of poor perimeter defense by the Gophers.

The Bearcats shot 7-for-21 from the three-point line before halftime and 10-for-36 overall. Hollins said simple adjustments fixed Minnesota’s defense.

“We did a little more switching,” Hollins said. “We were getting caught up on a few screens, but we came back strong in the second half.”

The Gophers struggled with their own perimeter shots for the second straight game, going 2-for-13 from long range. They made their money in the paint again, outscoring the Bearcats 52-18.

“That’s something we [have to] work on,” Smith said of his team’s 3-point shooting. “You’d hope in these games we could do that.”