Gophers go for second win

Zach Eisendrath

Long Island University coach Jim Ferry said he believes his team is on the cusp of heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997.

In an effort to make sure his team is as prepared as possible entering Northeast Conference competition, Ferry has scheduled a brutal nonconference slate for his players to deal with.

The Blackbirds (1-0 overall, 0-0 NEC) face their first foe out of a power conference tonight when they face Minnesota’s men’s basketball team. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. at Williams Arena.

Long Island will also travel to Penn State (also out of the Big Ten Conference) and St. John’s (out of the Big East Conference) during the first month of its schedule.

Ferry said a game such as tonight’s against the Gophers (1-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) will challenge his players so they are in prime form for the conference season, which is where they can punch their ticket for the Big Dance in March.

“I don’t want to play an easy schedule where we are just going to roll in and beat people night in and night out,” he said. “That (schedule) is going to really challenge our team, which will hopefully pay dividends for us later on down the year.”

Ferry said he is mainly worried about Minnesota’s size and athleticism. He pointed out the Gophers’ starting power forward and center combination of juniors Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson as his main concerns.

“They’re big up front,” Ferry said. “Those guys present major match-up problems for us.”

On the other hand, coach Dan Monson said he is primarily concerned with Long Island’s backcourt. Senior guard James Williams led Long Island in scoring last season. Monson said the Blackbirds have the ability to set the pace of the game and can knock down shots from the perimeter because they space the floor successfully.

In the month of November, Monson said no team can be taken lightly because of the inconsistency all teams display this early in the season.

After a sloppy showing offensively against North Dakota State, Monson said he hopes to see improvements when Minnesota has the ball tonight.

He said he admits that because defense was such a high priority entering Monday’s game, the team probably didn’t pay enough attention to the other side of the ball in preparation for the game.

That, however, won’t be the case for tonight’s contest. Monson said he has looked to shore up offensive execution during practice this week.

Junior guard Lawrence McKenzie was the one Minnesota player who seemed to never be out of rhythm during Monday’s game.

The 6-foot 2-inch guard put on the best showing of his early career wearing the maroon and gold – pouring in 20 points and grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds.

“I think I played pretty well,” he said. “The most important thing was the rebounding, I think. That really got me going.”

Ferry watched the Gophers on Monday and said he came away impressed. He said shutting down McKenzie and boxing out the larger players on the glass will be two critical parts of his game plan.

“I think Minnesota looked very disciplined,” Ferry said. “Their defensive foundation looked very solid and they played a lot of bodies. They’re going to cause some major problems.”