Gophers lose game, but more importantly Mbakwe

The senior forward injured his knee early in the second half against Dayton.

Charlie Armitz

The Gophers menâÄôs basketball team has had its fair share of problems in 2011.

This one might rank atop the list.

Trevor Mbakwe, the GophersâÄô leading scorer and rebounder and Preseason All-Big Ten First Team honoree, went down with a right knee injury in MinnesotaâÄôs 86-70 loss to Dayton on Sunday.

After falling to the floor awkwardly early in the second half, Mbakwe grabbed his right knee in pain. He was assisted off the court a few minutes later by two members of  MinnesotaâÄôs training staff and later two teammates. He appeared unable to fully bear weight.

He did not return to the game.

âÄúHeâÄôs on crutches, so not good,âÄù Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said in a release from the team. âÄúTrevorâÄôs a tough guy, and when heâÄôs down there gritting in pain you know itâÄôs serious, and it definitely takes a toll on your guys.âÄù

The 6-foot-8 senior was later seen icing his knee on the bench and then walking back to the locker room with crutches.

Shortly after his return to the locker room, Mbakwe tweeted, âÄúLord please get me through this.âÄù

He is scheduled to have an MRI on Monday, a team spokesman confirmed.

A left knee sprain during MbakweâÄôs 2007-08 season at Marquette forced him to miss 23 games, but he returned earlier than expected and played 11 games at the end of the season.

His status for the rest of the year was uncertain late Sunday night. If Mbakwe misses the rest of the 2011-12 season, he will be eligible to apply for a medical hardship waiver, which could allow him an additional year of eligibility.

The Gophers (6-1) trailed 44-36 when Mbakwe went down Sunday and fell behind by 12 points less than a half-minute later. They would get no closer the rest of the way.

An early 23-12 Minnesota lead vanished when Dayton went on a 25-5 run to close the half. The Flyers led 37-28 after 20 minutes.

Mbakwe led the Gophers with seven points at the half while the rest of the offense struggled.

In the second half, MinnesotaâÄôs defense faltered, allowing 49 points âÄî most of them in transition or on 3-pointers.

Dayton shot 12-for-27 from beyond the arc in the win and had 15 steals.

âÄúWe havenâÄôt defended the three very well all year long,âÄù Smith said. âÄúTonight it was very evident.âÄù

The Flyers also had 11 offensive rebounds âÄî five more than the Gophers âÄî and forced 21 Minnesota turnovers.

âÄúWhen a team is struggling, and you turn the ball over, thatâÄôs the best remedy,âÄù Smith said. âÄúAnd thatâÄôs exactly what we did.âÄù

Austin Hollins led the Gophers with 14 points, 10 of which came in the second half. Reserve point guards Julian Welch and Maverick Ahanmisi scored 12 and 10 points, respectively, but many of them came after Dayton had put the game out of reach.

Minnesota finished the Old Spice Classic as the runner-up with a 2-1 record.

Two second-half comebacks propelled the Gophers to the championship game, and Mbakwe played a part in both of wins.

He had 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting and a team-high 12 rebounds in ThursdayâÄôs 86-85 win against DePaul âÄî a game in which the Gophers trailed by 12 in the second half âÄî and scored seven of MinnesotaâÄôs last 14 points.

The senior also drew a charge with 13 seconds left that all but sealed the win. With DePaulâÄôs Cleveland Melvin driving toward the hoop, Mbakwe planted his feet just outside the restricted area inside the paint and absorbed the contact. That gave possession back to Minnesota, which led 84-83.

Welch was fouled on the next play and missed both free throws. But Rodney Williams, who led the Gophers with 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting, grabbed the offensive rebound and made a putback layup to extend MinnesotaâÄôs lead to 86-83.

Aside from the missed free throws, Welch had a productive weekend, scoring 40 points on 12-for-28 shooting. He also had five assists and seven turnovers.

Welch provided the spark the Gophers needed in their 76-69 win against Indiana State on Friday. He scored a career-high 17 points in the win and made a number of defensive plays in the second half that turned the tide after Minnesota trailed 40-33 at halftime.

With Minnesota down 58-49 with eight and a half minutes left, Welch, Mbakwe and Chip Armelin combined to score 22 consecutive points for the Gophers, which gave them a 71-66 lead.

After posting a double-double in five consecutive games to start 2011-12, Mbakwe fell short of that mark Friday and Sunday.

He had nine points and nine rebounds in the Indiana State win and nine points and four rebounds before his injury in the Dayton loss.