It’s official. The Barn is alive once again.
The experience that one receives from attending a game in Williams Arena is both unique and exhilarating, but cannot be fully appreciated without the right crowd. On Wednesday night in the Gophers’ Big Ten home opener that once forgotten experience came back to life through a simple 82-63 Minnesota victory over Northwestern.
From the opening warm-ups, the anticipation was easily seen in the surprised and smiling faces of Minnesota’s players as they gazed into the stands at 13,079 screaming fans in maroon and gold, a sight not often seen for many on this Gophers’ roster.
Freshman guard Blake Hoffarber kept those fans on their feet by hitting all five of his three point attempts in the first half, finishing with 15 points.
“The crowd was going crazy tonight,” Hoffarber said after the game. “I was getting open and just doing the last part of it when my teammates found me to hit the open shot.”
After tallying just six points in his last game at Michigan State, senior forward Dan Coleman got back on track in a big way against the Wildcats with 19 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, creating a solid inside-outside game with Hoffarber and the Gophers’ other guards.
Coleman brought some much-needed intensity and gritty play that was lacking against the loss to the Spartans, going back to more of an inside game than a jump shooting one. The senior was often seen above the rim tipping in offensive rebounds or taking the ball to the rack with authority to give Minnesota (11-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) an inside presence.
“He (Coleman) was very active and aggressive tonight,” Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said.
Fellow senior Spencer Tollackson complimented Coleman well in the trenches with 12 points to help break Northwestern’s (5-7 overall, 0-3 Big Ten) nifty 1-2-2 match-up zone defense, while also aiding the Gophers’ zone defense by snagging 3 steals.
Under the tenure of former coach Dan Monson Minnesota went 6-7 against the Wildcats, loosing its last three home match-ups.
But Smith has now started his own series with Northwestern on the right foot, while also helping restore one of Minneapolis’ most historic venues back to prominence by coaching the Gophers to an undefeated 8-0 record at home.
“It helps a lot when we have the crowd and the building rocking like it was tonight,” Smith said.