Minnesota pulls away in second half to defeat SDSU

The Gophers played evenly with the Jackrabbits for 25 minutes before taking control with a 22-3 run.

Sophomore Maverick Ahanmisi dribbles past an opponent Monday night during a game against South Dakota State at Williams Arena.

Sophomore Maverick Ahanmisi dribbles past an opponent Monday night during a game against South Dakota State at Williams Arena.

Charlie Armitz

Basketball is a game won in the second half âÄî and in this regard, the Gophers menâÄôs basketball team has it figured out.

Elsewhere, the teamâÄôs early-season struggles persisted in a 71-55 win Monday night at Williams Arena against South Dakota State.

For the second straight game, the Gophers started poorly and finished strong. They took a 32-30 lead into halftime, but trailed 44-39 five and a half minutes into the second half.

Then, using a 22-3 burst that lasted seven minutes, Minnesota took a 61-47 lead and played comfortably the rest of the way.

âÄúWe played the second half like we should have started off the game,âÄù Trevor Mbakwe said. âÄúWe really picked it up and we were able to get some stops and press more. That was really key for us to get the lead and pull away.âÄù

Mbakwe had three blocked shots during that stretch. He finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks on 6-for-7 shooting.

Mbakwe has been a second-half monster early in 2011. Through two exhibition games and two regular season games, he has averaged 12.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the last 20 minutes.

The rest of the team has played well in spurts, but has lacked consistency. Ralph Sampson III (10 points) and Rodney Williams (7) each played more than 28 minutes, but both seemed to disappear from the offense at times.

MinnesotaâÄôs bench had its best game yet, scoring 27 points on 10-for-18 shooting. Oto Osenieks and Maverick Ahanmisi each made 3-pointers to ignite the teamâÄôs second-half surge, and Chip Armelin scored nine points in the first half.

The Gophers picked up their defensive intensity in the second half, and shut down Jackrabbits star Nate Wolters.

Wolters scored eight of SDSUâÄôs first 10 points in the second half, but was held to two points in the last 16:27. During many of the JackrabbitsâÄô possessions in the second half, the Gophers denied him the ball and forced other SDSU players to create the offense.

âÄúIn the locker room, our coach just made a point to pressure the ball more,âÄù Ahanmisi said. âÄúWe just wanted to pressure the ball as much as we could.âÄù

Ahanmisi had eight points, two rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot âÄî all of which came in the second half.

âÄúI thought Maverick was the key to us turning it around offensively,âÄù Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said.

Smith likened AhanmisiâÄôs crafty second-half play to that of Wolters. ThatâÄôs high praise considering Wolters scored 32 points in SDSUâÄôs season-opener and averaged 19.5 points last season.

Still, the Gophers were unable to dominate a Jackrabbits team that hadnâÄôt beaten Minnesota in any of its 15 previous tries.

Minnesota had its best shooting night âÄî 6-for-14 from 3-point range, and 27-for-47 from the floor overall âÄî but lost the rebounding battle 37-33.

SDSU out-rebounded the Gophers 23-13 in the first half, and didnâÄôt allow Minnesota a single offensive rebound.

“They were just crashing everybody,âÄù Mbakwe said. âÄúWe weren’t getting the long rebounds, and their guards were sneaking in. We just didn’t do a good enough job of boxing out in the first half.

âÄúCoach really challenged us at halftime, because we pride ourselves on rebounding, and there’s no way we should have gotten out-rebounded like that in the first half or in the game.”

MinnesotaâÄôs perimeter defense improved in the second half, but the teamâÄôs guard play remains a question mark.

Andre Hollins and Julian Welch âÄî the teamâÄôs leading contenders for the point guard spot ahead of Ahanmisi âÄî combined to shoot 2-for-7 with two assists, four turnovers, and five fouls.