Abu-Shamala, Gophers take care of North Dakota State

After a few marquee wins in the past two years, there was a thought that North Dakota State could give the Gophers some trouble in their fourth-straight trip to Williams Arena. They didn’t. Led by Jamal Abu-Shamala’s season-high 20 points, Minnesota breezed by the Bison on Saturday, winning 90-76 and holding a double-digit lead most of the afternoon . North Dakota State upset No. 8 Marquette and No. 15 Wisconsin in 2006 and are a favorite to make the NCAA Tournament this season, but couldn’t match up to Minnesota’s size and couldn’t come back from a 14-1 deficit to start the game. âÄúA couple of those shots that sometimes rattle in rattled out,âÄù Bison coach Saul Phillips said. âÄúHad a couple of them gone the other way, I think it would’ve been real interesting down the stretch, but they just made every play.âÄù Shamala was a big part of that early lead, scoring nine of the team’s first 11 points. Playing in his 100th career game, the senior made good with the mid-range jump shot that has been his strong point, finishing 6-for-10 from the field with two three-pointers. As a team, the Gophers shot a season-best 61.5 percent from the floor. âÄúHe came out hitting it on all cylinders, which just fires everybody up,âÄù junior Lawrence Westbrook said. Westbrook played a big role, too, scoring 17 points off the bench. The team’s leading scorer missed Wednesday’s win against Eastern Washington with a shin problem but said he was feeling better. His return was just in time for forward Paul Carter’s sprained ankle, which kept him out of the game. Shamala picked up the slack, including four big free throws in the first half, after a technical foul on Phillips, which increased the lead from 13 to 17. North Dakota State cut the lead to seven in the second half, but the Gophers âÄî who struggled mightily to put games away last year âÄî answered with a 14-4 run. âÄúThat’s something I’m trying to tell the young guys: We’ve got to hold these teams off,âÄù Shamala said. âÄúWhen you get into Big Ten season, you can’t let up. Otherwise, those teams will hit you in the mouth and take that lead.âÄù Center Ralph Sampson III âÄúput the nail in the coffin,âÄù as Phillips said, with an array of put-backs late in the second half. The true freshman scored all 12 of his points in the final nine minutes, 20 seconds of the game after getting pushed around in front of the basket early. âÄúHe got quality minutes,âÄù head coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúObviously, when you spend more time in the game and can get settled in, you get more confidence. He showed a lot of skills out there, using both hands, catching the ball and blocking shots.âÄù Mike Nelson led North Dakota State with 22 points, while Albert Lea-native Ben Woodside had 16. Woodside, one of eight Minnesotans on the 16-man Bison roster, played the Gophers four times in his career, but never came within single digits in a game. âÄúIt would’ve been an amazing story to get a win at Williams Arena,âÄù Woodside said. âÄúBut coach Smith took that away.âÄù