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Gophers overcome slow start, win big

Eleven Minnesota players scored in a rout of Central Michigan.
Guard Joe Coleman makes a lay-up Tuesday evening at Williams Arena. Coleman scored 12 points in the Gophers 76-56 win over Central Michigan.
Image by Erin Westover
Guard Joe Coleman makes a lay-up Tuesday evening at Williams Arena. Coleman scored 12 points in the Gophers’ 76-56 win over Central Michigan.

Five games removed from Trevor MbakweâÄôs season-ending injury, the GophersâÄô menâÄôs basketball team is still struggling to find consistency.

Winning games, however, has seemed to come easily for MinnesotaâÄôs young squad.

The Gophers (11-1) extended their winning streak to five games with a 76-56 victory against Central Michigan (4-5) on Tuesday at Williams Arena. Their last four wins have all been by double digits.

Yet they have each come in different ways, with no single player establishing himself as the next go-to guy.

Eleven Minnesota players scored Tuesday, led by Julian WelchâÄôs 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting.

Rodney Williams had his second consecutive off-night with five points, eight rebounds and four turnovers. After scoring 44 points in his first three games since Mbakwe went down, he has 15 points in his last two games.

Minnesota had 18 turnovers as a team, including 10 in the first half. A series of giveaways in the gameâÄôs opening minutes allowed Central Michigan to take an 11-6 lead.

But the Gophers soon settled down and took control of the game with a 26-6 run. MinnesotaâÄôs two shooting guards, Welch and Joe Coleman, combined to score 14 points during that stretch.

âÄúCentral Michigan came in with a good game plan,âÄù Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúThey were very aggressive and very physical, and that took us out of some things early in the game. But then we got into our press and got a tempo that was good for us.âÄù

Minnesota seemed to put the game on cruise control the rest of the way, taking a 34-23 lead into halftime and maintaining its double-digit edge throughout the second half.

The Gophers shot 57 percent from the field (27-for-47) and 47 percent from 3-point range (8-for-17) in the win. Despite being careless with the ball at times, Minnesota tallied an assist on 89 percent of its makes. 

Smith said the GophersâÄô hot shooting was its key to overcoming a poor ball-handling night.

âÄúWhen you make shots, everything covers up for a lot of those mistakes,âÄù Smith said. âÄúThatâÄôs what the difference in the game was.âÄù

Coleman had six quick points after replacing Welch early in the game but sat for the last eight minutes of the first half. He finished with 12 points in 15 minutes âÄî his third consecutive game with at least nine points.

Ralph Sampson III had six points in 18 minutes after scoring 15 points in SaturdayâÄôs 70-56 win against St. Peter’s. Smith said after the game that Sampson may have been limited by a bad ankle that had kept him out of the starting lineup earlier in the season.

If there was one Minnesota player that stood out, it was Welch. The junior college transfer paced the Gophers all night with steady play, just as he has done throughout his five games as a starter.

âÄúHeâÄôs a scorer. HeâÄôs taken the role well,âÄù sophomore Austin Hollins said. âÄúHeâÄôs stepped up and been a leader. We just follow behind as a team.âÄù

Hollins had 12 points, and Maverick Ahanmisi added a season-high 10. MinnesotaâÄôs six guards scored 59 of its 76 points.

The GophersâÄô depth was especially apparent against a Central Michigan team that failed to register a single bench point.

Three Chippewas players âÄî Trey Zeigler, Austin McBroom and Derek Jackson âÄî combined to score 50 of the teamâÄôs 56 points.

Minnesota freshman point guard Andre Hollins, who had sat out the last game and a half with a tweaked ankle, scored three points in 13 minutes off the bench.

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