Coleman stellar as Gophers cruise to win

The Bison kept it close early but the Gophers broke it open late in the first half.

It was as if a switch simultaneously flicked on inside the heads of the Minnesota men’s basketball team’s three senior captains.

Tubby Smith’s Gophers were locked into a tightly contested battle with North Dakota State Monday night at Williams Arena, leading only by two, 22-20, with seven minutes remaining in the first half.

Then Minnesota’s seniors made sure things didn’t get any closer for the maroon and gold.

The senior trio of guard Lawrence McKenzie, center Spencer Tollackson and forward Dan Coleman, who finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds, ignited a first-half run that led the Gophers (5-1 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) to a 88-56 win against the border-rival Bison in front of 12, 454 at The Barn.

“I tip my hat to (Minnesota). Tubby’s obviously re-energized this program,” NDSU coach Saul Phillips said.

Freshman guard Al Nolen had a career-high 15 points to pace Minnesota, but it was the veteran trio that turned the game in the Gophers’ favor.

McKenzie, Coleman and Tollackson almost single-handedly turned a one-possession, back-and-forth game into a double-digit lead for Minnesota, scoring all 13 points in the Gophers’ 13-0 run in the final stages of the first half.

Coleman, who seemed like a new player after scoring one basket midway through the first half after four tip-in attempts, said the seniors tried to take responsibility for the game during that sequence.

“That’s what we are out there for, to bring stability and make plays when we are supposed to,” he said.

Playing its second game in three days, Minnesota couldn’t get into a rhythm early and let NDSU (4-4, 0-0 Summit) hang around early with the Bison even leading briefly on three occasions in the first 12 minutes of action.

But as Minnesota clamped down, putting together what Smith called the team’s “best defensive effort of the season,” which included holding NDSU without a field goal for seven, the Gophers, who also got 24 first-half points from their seniors, blew the game wide open.

Back-to-back threes by Nolen and a behind-the-arc buzzer-beater from redshirt sophomore guard Kevin Payton gave Minnesota a decisive 44-27 half-time advantage.

Due to technical difficulties, a portion of the Williams Arena scoreboard didn’t work in the second half. But anyone watching even remotely closely could tell that Minnesota expanded its lead in the final 20 minutes of play with a team effort, paced by a Gophers’ bench that continues to improve.

For the game, Minnesota’s bench outscored NDSU’s 41-7.

“I wouldn’t even call them a bench,” Coleman said. “They are just as capable as the first group.”

Noteworthy

NDSU freshman guard Nevin Lubarski, an Argyle native, was a student-manager for the Gophers last season.