Minnesota stays unbeaten after a 38-8 run against Cornell

stbridgesymposium

Jennifer Whalen

stbridgesymposium

When Blake Hoffarber left SaturdayâÄôs game with an ankle injury early in the second half, it looked like the latest injury to a key Gophers player wouldnâÄôt even be bittersweet. They trailed by 13 points, had 11 turnovers and couldnâÄôt get scoring from anyone. But HoffarberâÄôs injury turned out to be one of the biggest sparks in the coach Tubby Smith era for the Gophers, who, with a savage full-court press, outscored Cornell a remarkable 38-8 the rest of the way in their 71-54 win at Williams Arena. âÄúThe defense is contagious, and itâÄôs how we were able to pull this game out,âÄù Smith said. âÄúIt was the defensive intensity.âÄù Seconds after teammates carried Hoffarber, the teamâÄôs second-leading scorer coming into the game, off the floor, junior Damian Johnson hit a three-pointer as the shot clock expired. A possession later, Johnson, who finished with 11 points, put-back an offensive rebound. Then, a steal on an inbound pass lead to a foul and eventually a Devoe Joseph lay-up. Then, another steal and a Ralph Sampson III dunk. Two Cornell turnovers, a jump-ball, a Travis Busch jump shot from the corner and two free Devoe Joseph free throws later, and the score was tied. And on, and on. Cornell turned the ball over 10 times and committed nine fouls after Hoffarber went out with 15 minutes, 26 seconds left. They shot just 9 percent from the floor during that span. Included in that 38-8 finish was a 25-2 run that left an announced crowd of 12,615 rocking at the loudest decibel level this season. âÄúIt became a little competition,âÄù junior Lawrence Westbrook, who led the team with 17 points, said. âÄúIf somebody got a steal, I was like, âÄòI better get one or IâÄôm gonna come out.âÄô Then I got one and the next person was gonna get one. It raised everybodyâÄôs level of intensity.âÄù HoffarberâÄôs sprained ankle was another in a long line of injuries for the Gophers (8-0). Senior Jonathan Williams returned Saturday in a limited role, but they are still missing forward Paul Carter. Hoffarber is doubtful for the teamâÄôs game against South Dakota State on Wednesday, Smith said. Busch and Joseph stepped up in his place, combining for 14 points and two steals. âÄúWe donâÄôt play that many lineups, but we know that we can plug a guy in,âÄù Smith said. âÄúIt goes back to developing those skills and playing defense âÄî the willingness and determination you have to have to do that.âÄù Defensive lockdown aside, itâÄôs an encouraging win for the Gophers simply because Cornell may be the best team theyâÄôve faced all season. The defending Ivy League champions led No. 16 Syracuse by double digits Wednesday and have several quality three-point shooters. Ryan Wittman , son of Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman, had 16 points in the first half, but like the rest of the team, failed to do much in the second. Minnesota held Wittman to five points and Cornell 0-for-13 shooting from three point range in the second half. The Gophers didnâÄôt do much from three-point range, either, but with their second half, they didnâÄôt need to. âÄúOnce you start pressing, the crowdâÄôs gonna get into it and youâÄôre going to have a lot of runs,âÄù Westbrook said. âÄúItâÄôs nice, because you can get a lot of points without needing to dribble the ball.âÄù