Minnesota drops Old Spice Classic finale

C.J. Spang


it was a roller coaster of a game for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team, but like a roller coaster, it ended heading downward.

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WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Williams Arena

The Gophers fell to Montana 72-65 in the seventh-place game of the Old Spice Classic on Sunday at the Milk House at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. Minnesota was the only team without a win in the tournament, finishing 0-3.

“Coming down here was good for us because it exposed a lot of stuff that we’re not doing well enough,” sophomore guard Jamal Abu-Shamala said.

Early in the contest, the Gophers took advantage of six Grizzlies’ turnovers to grab a 17-12 lead.

But things derailed from that point on, as Minnesota failed to take care of the ball, turning it over six times, while making just five goals to let the Grizzlies enter the locker room with a 35-31 lead.

“We just aren’t valuing the ball,” coach Dan Monson said.

The second half didn’t start any better, as the Gophers coughed the ball up in five of their first six possessions, and watched Montana take its biggest lead of the game 45-33.

Abu-Shamala was the lone bright spot for Minnesota in the first eight minutes of the half, as he scored 10 of the Gophers’ first 11 points, keeping their fast-sinking ship afloat.

“Making the first few shots gave me confidence,” he said. He said he just wanted his teammates to feed off his play, and that’s exactly what they did.

Minnesota (2-4 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) began a 10-1 run when redshirt freshman forward Damian Johnson converted a three-point play to pull the Gophers within seven, 58-51, with 7:32 left in the game.

After that play, Minnesota put on a full-court press that caused problems for the Grizzlies.

Montana (2-4 overall, 0-0 Big Sky) turned the ball over on three of its next five possessions, allowing the Gophers to pull within one, 59-58, with just over five minutes to go.

But a Minneapolis native made sure Minnesota went home with another loss.

Freshman guard Cameron Rundles – a De La Salle High School graduate – nailed back-to-back three-pointers to give the Grizzlies a seven-point lead again.

Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said he had a feeling Rundles could have a big game because of his Minnesota ties, and he did, scoring 10 points on 3-of-3 shooting from three-point range in 15 minutes of work.

“I told the guys before we came out, ‘Hey man, do this one for me,’ ” he said. “I said that’s where I’m from, so I

just wanted them to do that for me and that’s exactly what

they did.”

The Gophers cut the lead to two points with less than 45 seconds to play, but with Monson on the court screaming at his team not to foul, freshman guard Lawrence Westbrook fouled senior guard Bryan Ellis.

Ellis, who didn’t take a shot and scored all 10 of his points from the charity stripe, sealed the win by hitting both of his free throws after the Westbrook foul.

Fouls plagued Minnesota throughout the second half as the Gophers had seven of them less than six minutes into the frame.

While Montana shot a mediocre 66.7 percent from the charity stripe, the Grizzlies shot a blistering 52.5 percent from the floor and 55.6 percent from three-point range. In the first two games of the tournament, Montana shot 43.7 percent from the floor and just 24.3 percent from downtown.

Minnesota had its best shooting game of the tournament as well, knocking down 42.9 percent of its shots from the floor.

Junior forward Dan Coleman led the Gophers with 13 points, Abu-Shamala had 12 and Westbrook dropped in 11.

“We just didn’t execute,” Abu-Shamala said of his team’s performance at the tournament. “We didn’t make the big play when we needed it.”