While there was little doubt Minnesota’s men’s basketball team would win its season opener with the Gophers leading Mercer by 16 late in the first half, junior center Jerry Holman did his part to make the victory memorable Saturday.
Just 16 seconds after dunking a rebound to give Minnesota a 34-16 lead with 3:35 left in the half, Holman collected a pass from Travarus Bennett and dunked the ball again.
Then, with the student section chanting his name as the Bears tried to take the ball out of their zone, Holman grabbed the team’s second-straight steal and converted it into a basket to increase the Gophers’ lead to 22.
“I think that hyped up the crowd as much as it hyped up the team. I was hyped as well,” said Holman, whose six points in 32 seconds highlighted an 18-1 run that helped lead Minnesota to an 80-59 win.
“They were pretty much done. We broke them after that. They
didn’t have any more in them.”
Holman, who came off the bench midway through the first half, had an impressive performance in his first game with the Gophers. The junior college transfer shot 75 percent from the field with 17 points and six rebounds.
“On the circuit this summer recruiting, I would ask Big Ten coaches about Minnesota. They said, ‘That Holman kid could really be good. He’s really something’, ” Mercer coach Mark Slonaker said. “This was probably his
coming-out party tonight.”
While Holman, who had all three of the game’s dunks, ignited the Williams Arena crowd, fellow newcomer Rick Rickert also posted solid numbers.
Rickert, who started at center, finished with 17 points and four blocks and made three of four three-point attempts. Twelve of his points came early in the second half as Minnesota built an insurmountable 40-point lead.
The Gophers (1-0) outplayed the Bears (0-2) in all aspects of the game. Minnesota outrebounded Mercer 46-34, had 10 steals and had a 40.6 field goal percentage to the Bears’ 39.6.
“Our team played aggressively and that’s what we weren’t doing so well during our exhibition games,” said forward Michael Bauer, who had eight rebounds and led the game with 18 points. “We weren’t putting a lot of minutes together. In this game we put 30 solid minutes in there.”
After struggling in a loss to the Harlem Globetrotters and a close win over Division II opponent Minnesota-Duluth in exhibitions, the Gophers were glad to put Mercer away early.
“We played with a lot of emotion and intensity and that’s what we need,” senior guard Kevin Burleson said. “I’m proud of us. I think we’re getting better and taking the right steps to being a great team.”
Minnesota dominated the first half-hour before Mercer outscored the Gophers 22-3 at the end of the game.
“As a coach, it drives you crazy to play that good for 30 minutes and not be able to sustain it,” said Minnesota coach Dan Monson, whose team made no field goals in the last nine minutes.
“Right at the end everybody started being kind of relaxed,” Bauer said. “I’d hate to say we were bored, but I think it was us kind of thinking we had the game sealed. That’s the time of the game when we need to come out and attack a little harder.”
While Monson was concerned with the Gophers’ late lapse, he said it was also understandable.
“It’s really easy to stand on the sidelines or up in the stands and say, ‘You’ve got to play like it’s 0-0 and all those cliches,'” he said. “It’s another to be out there and not know that you have a 30-point lead. What it shows is the sign of an immature team.”
Jabari Ritchie covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]