It was only a preseason game against a Division II opponent. Nonetheless, the Minnesota men’s basketball team looked like a revitalized squad in its exhibition debut Thursday night.
Playing in new coach Tubby Smith’s up-tempo offense for the first time, the Gophers looked comfortable all night, out-running visiting Minnesota State en route to a 94-68 victory in front of 11,580 people at Williams Arena.
“I think we showed people the style of play we are going to play, senior center Spencer Tollackson said. “I can’t remember the last time we put up 94 points against anybody. I don’t even think we’ve gone a whole practice scoring that many points.”
To no surprise, it was the Gophers’ three seniors – guard Lawrence McKenzie, forward Dan Coleman and Tollackson – who shouldered the scoring load against the Mavericks.
Smith has said numerous times over the past few weeks that he expects the trio-captains to score the majority of Minnesota’s points this season.
On Thursday, the three were factors early and often, scoring 20 of Minnesota’s first 21 points before finishing with a combined total of 52 points.
McKenzie went nine of 13, finishing with a game-high 24 points. Coleman added 17 and Tollackson chipped in with 11, as Minnesota shot 53.7 percent from the field for the game.
Leading the way from the get-go was McKenzie, who looked in midseason form from the tip. The Gophers’ leading scorer from a season ago with 14.9 points per game, scored 19 points in the first half, and gave Minnesota a 17 point halftime lead, 47-30, with an emphatic dunk right before the first-half buzzer sounded. The Gophers’ lead eventually ballooned to as many as 29 in the second half.
McKenzie said the Gophers looked like a new team in their exhibition opener in comparison with last year’s program-worst 22 loss team that was 10th in the Big Ten in scoring with 57.3 points per game.
“After last year, I feel like it’s a new beginning. It feels good to get that taste out of our mouth,” he said.
“When I watched from the sideline it looked like a whole new team out there,” McKenzie said. “I think we can be very successful, especially because we can score a lot of points off of steals and turnovers, something we didn’t do last year.”
Smith said it is important for his team to gain confidence early this season. Thursday night was a good start in that regard.
“We are all much more productive when we are told we are doing a better job, and are doing a better job.”
“I could tell (Thursday) they are really tuning in and picking up some of the things we’ve been trying to teach,” Smith said.
Smith decided to go with a veteran starting lineup, starting sophomore guard’s Kevin Payton and Lawrence Westbrook along with Minnesota’s three seniors.