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Minnesota downs Lipscomb 83-66 to open season

It wasn’t pretty, but Minnesota’s men’s basketball team put a tally in the right column Sunday.

The Gophers (1-0) defeated Lipscomb 83-66 by holding the Bisons (0-1) to just 45.1 percent shooting despite looking sloppy offensively in their regular season opener at Williams Arena.

“We were very tentative defensively in the first half,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “We got that sense of urgency on defense in the second half and played a lot more solid.”

Without that defensive urgency, the squad might have been upset. Minnesota led by just four at the half and even trailed 39-38 early in the second half.

But then, the defense came around.

Senior center Jeff Hagen had a career-high seven blocks, leading a Gophers squad that had 12.

The Gophers also had 14 steals against the Bisons.

The 23 Lipscomb turnovers and the resulting 28-11 Minnesota advantage in points off turnovers was, not coincidentally, the difference in the final score.

“We just turned the ball over too much,” Bisons coach Scott Sanderson said. “We weathered their press early but just made some unforced turnovers.”

In addition to the Gophers’ increased defensive intensity in the second half, freshman forward Dan Coleman asserted himself, scoring 16 of his 21 points after the break to help the Gophers pull away.

“We knew they were tough inside, but one guy that impressed me was Dan Coleman,” Sanderson said. “We thought he was soft, but he didn’t play soft at all tonight.”

But even Coleman’s 21 points weren’t enough to lead the Gophers.

Junior wing Vincent Grier scored 23 on 9-for-10 shooting from the field, wowing the announced crowd of 9,243 with a thunderous left-handed dunk late in the second half.

Rico Tucker and Jeff Hagen added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for Minnesota.

Grier’s dunk completed a turnaround from a game that looked troublesome early. The Gophers turned the ball over four times in the first four minutes of the game and didn’t lead until Aaron Robinson hit a three-pointer with 8:16 left in the first half.

Even after that, the Gophers fell behind again, needing a 9-2 run to retake the lead as the first half came to a close.

Coleman chalked it all up to first-game jitters.

“We just had a whole team calming out there,” Coleman said of the Gophers’ turnaround early in the second half. “Aaron helped us calm down and I think I just relaxed and let the game come to me.”

Monson said the game was a demonstrative of how far the Gophers, who play Furman in the Great Alaskan Shootout at 12:45 a.m. CDT Thursday, still have to come.

“This is a starting point for us,” Monson said. “We’re happy to win our first game, but this showed how much work we need to do.”

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