Next up for Minnesota: the Peacocks

The Gophers have not lost at home this season and St. Peter hasn’t won on the road.

Charlie Armitz

ItâÄôs been a long nonconference season full of inferior opponents for the Gophers menâÄôs basketball team.

But thatâÄôs not to say the schedule hasnâÄôt been packed with drama.

With three games to go before the start of the Big Ten season, Minnesota (9-1) has already had to endure the loss of Trevor Mbakwe, ankle injuries to Ralph Sampson III and Andre Hollins, and inconsistent play from just about everyone else.

Fortunately for the Gophers, the team has found some stability now that Sampson is back and Rodney Williams has replaced Mbakwe âÄî at least for now âÄî as the teamâÄôs go-to player.

Minnesota carries a three-game winning streak into SaturdayâÄôs game against St. PeterâÄôs (2-5), a Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference school.

The Peacocks have yet to win a road game this season in four tries while the Gophers are undefeated at Williams Arena (7-0).

Life in the Barn hasnâÄôt been easy for the Gophers, though âÄî the team has kept its opponent close in all but two of its seven home games. In TuesdayâÄôs 70-56 win against Appalachian State, Minnesota needed an 18-4 run in the last five minutes to pull away from the Mountaineers.

Williams was the key force during that run, and he has been every bit as clutch as Mbakwe was before the senior suffered a season-ending ACL tear Nov. 27. The 6-foot-7-inch junior has averaged 14.7 points since moving to power forward.

âÄúCoach would throw me in at practice even last year at the [power forward],âÄù Williams said. âÄúSo I had a pretty good feel for what I was going to need to do to be successful at the 4-spot.âÄù

WilliamsâÄô defense has improved as well, although everyone on the team seems to struggle with guarding the 3-point shot.

MinnesotaâÄôs perimeter defense has been a major reason it has been unable to pull away until late in games. GophersâÄô opponents have shot 38 percent âÄî 70-for-183 âÄî from beyond the arc in 2011-12.

Minnesota has shot just 42-for-126, a 33-percent clip, from long distance despite Tubby Smith heralding his squad as the best shooting group heâÄôs had at Minnesota.

St. Peter, however, has shot just 26 percent from 3-point range this season. Guard Chris Prescott has made 18 of the teamâÄôs 31 3-pointers and leads the team with 13.3 points per game.