Joseph leads the way as Gophers fend off St. Joseph’s

by Josh Katzenstein

PHILADELPHIA âÄî Tubby Smith can now claim that his No. 22 Gophers can win a tough game on the road against a team that, while young and untested, kept clawing back. St. JosephâÄôs cut a 10-point halftime deficit to just one early in the second half, but Minnesota used a 13-0 run to regain a comfortable lead before winning 83-73 at Hagan Arena Wednesday night. âÄúTheyâÄôve got a lot of guts,âÄù Smith said of his 8-1 squad. âÄúWeâÄôve got some toughness. I think thatâÄôs one of the things that showed. We showed a little more patience tonight and thatâÄôs what I was encouraged by.âÄù Trevor Mbakwe carried the Gophers on both ends, especially early in the game. The junior forward grabbed 16 rebounds for the second consecutive game, but all of his 12 points seemed to silence the crowd, especially three thunderous two-handed slams. Those numbers are becoming standard from Mbakwe, and the Gophers needed more to pull off the win. MinnesotaâÄôs guards killed numerous runs by the Hawks, who never led after the 9:30 mark in the first half. After St. JoeâÄôs cut the lead to one with 16:36 left in the game, Devoe Joseph hit a three-pointer that started the crucial 13-0 stretch. Joseph also hit from deep when St. JoeâÄôs later closed the gap to five. He finished with a season- and game-high 19 points in his first start of the year. âÄúItâÄôs good to have Devoe,âÄù Smith said about the guard who missed the first six games because of a suspension. âÄúDevoeâÄôs starting to round into shape, and heâÄôs playing better.âÄù Senior guard Blake Hoffarber was also key to holding off the runs. Held to just three points in the first half, the captain responded to finish with 14 points, including six during that critical run. Both Hoffarber and Joseph were 4-of-6 from behind the arc, carrying the Gophers to a 47.1 percent clip from three-point range. The Gophers also shot 48.4 percent from the field while holding the Hawks to just 36.2 percent. Early on, the Gophers showed an improvement in perimeter defense âÄî an apparent problem with guard Al Nolen out of the lineup nursing a foot injury âÄî as St. JoeâÄôs made only 3-of-17 three-pointers in the first half. The Hawks hit 6-of-12 deep balls in the second half, but Smith said that mightâÄôve improved because they needed threes to catch up. The Hawks couldnâÄôt buy a basket in the first half, missing 30 total shots (9-for-39) while the Gophers took only 34. Coach Phil Martelli was glad to see his team have that many chances, but itâÄôs tough to recover from shooting 23.1 percent in a half. Martelli was also upset that his team allowed Minnesota to control the tempo as he saw many of his players fail to get back on defense after chipping away at the GophersâÄô lead. âÄúYouâÄôve got to get to the next play,âÄù Martelli said. âÄúYouâÄôve got to make that next stop âĦ when we were right there we let them go.âÄù Smith felt the Gophers showed poise in responding to a talented young team, led by sophomore Carl JonesâÄô 29 points and freshman Langston GallowayâÄôs 21 points. Smith said Minnesota tried to shut down the two lethal scorers, but it didnâÄôt matter since nobody else scored in double figures for the Hawks. Meanwhile, the Gophers found an ace in the hole with forward Mo Walker. In just 15 minutes, he had 10 points, five rebounds and a team-high four assists. âÄúHis ability, his poise âĦ heâÄôs playing with a lot of maturity for being a freshman,âÄù Smith said. âÄúHe really showed a lot of basketball savvy.âÄù Rodney Williams and Ralph Sampson didnâÄôt impress in the Gophers first true road game. Williams picked up two early fouls, but the junior wing played just three minutes in the second half because âÄúwhen heâÄôs in foul trouble heâÄôs not very aggressive.âÄù Sampson finished with 10 points and five boards, but had four first-half turnovers.