Nathaniel makes plays at point

Tim Nichols

In the battle for the point guard position, transfers Mitch Ohnstad and Terrence Simmons have garnered most of the publicity.
But after tonight, people might start pointing the spotlight in Kevin Nathaniel’s direction.
The 22-year-old sophomore scored five points, dished five assists and registered five steals to help the Gophers along to their 77-70 win over Seton Hall.
“You’ve got to like Kevin Nathaniel,” coach Clem Haskins said. “He has pure strength. There is no substitute for strength in this game. And having that strength makes him very successful.”
Nathaniel was all over the place for Minnesota on Tuesday. If he wasn’t grabbing boards, he was finding the open man. And if he didn’t have the ball, or wasn’t even in the game, he was the Gophers’ number one cheerleader.
“I love to get the crowd into it,” Nathaniel said. “We definitely have the advantage out there with the sixth man; they’re amazing. That was a big reason for us pulling together. And it motivates us to play even harder.”
The play of Nathaniel is one of the main reasons the Gophers were able to turn around their wretched rebounding woes in the first half.
In the first 20 minutes, the Gophers were out-rebounded by the smaller Pirates, 32 to 18. Minnesota returned the favor in the second half, out-rebounding Seton Hall 20 to 16.
Perhaps Nathaniel shows the kind of emotions he does because he won’t receive any demerits for it. Before playing with the Gophers, Nathaniel served in the Air Force.
“I was in the military for three years working for Uncle Sam,” Nathaniel said. “Now I’m in college playing basketball. I take every game and every day like it’s (the last one of) my life out there. I just want to play hard and have fun.”
Nathaniel’s enthusiasm is also rubbing off on his teammates. Along with Nathaniel, Quincy Lewis loves to get the crowd involved in the game.
And with a career-high 36 points, maybe everyone should try to work the crowd.
“We have some of the best fans,” Lewis said. “They don’t leave when you’re down by 16. They help us stay competitive. They keep us in every situation so we never die. And that’s our motto this year — never die.”
With Nathaniel’s’s never-say-die attitude, he could see more playing time and perhaps compete for a starting position in the near future. But he doesn’t want to hear any of it. He’s just enjoying the moment.
“I’m looking forward to playing, period,” Nathaniel said. “Where it be point guard, two-guard — wherever it is. Wherever the coach puts me, I’m just going to go out there.”