Sweetney proves too much for Gophers inside

Anthony Maggio

Georgetown center Mike Sweetney received the ball in the post, and was fouled by Jeff Hagen with 2:53 to play in the first half. The bad part for Minnesota was as a result, Sweetney hit his 10th and 11th free throws of the half.

The Gophers fouled the 6-foot-8, 260-pound Sweetney eight times in the first half, but could do nothing to slow down the Hoyas unanimous all Big East First Team selection.

Instead, Minnesota watched helplessly as Sweetney imposed his will. Sweetney bullied his way to 32 points, nine rebounds, four assists, four steals and three blocks as Georgetown defeated the Gophers 88-74 in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

“We should’ve been trying to use our finesse more than trying to use our muscles,” Gophers center Jerry Holman said. “We all knew he was able to outmuscle us, but it got to our head and we kept trying to get more physical and all our big players got into foul trouble.”

By the end of the first half, Minnesota’s frountcourt was saddled with nine fouls. Sweetney was sent to the charity stripe 18 times in the game, 13 of which came in the first half. By intermission, Sweetney had quietly dropped 17 points on the Gophers.

“They were triple- and double-teaming me down there and they had a lot of length,” Sweetney said. “I had a lot of help from my teammates by hitting open shots which opened things up for me to take my man one-on-one.”

Brandon Bowman and Ashanti Cook scored 13 and seven points respectively in the first half, finding open jump shots as Minnesota was focused on Sweetney.

In the second half, the Gophers were forced to respect Georgetown’s shooters, and Sweetney took full advantage. He went 5-of-6 from the floor in the second half, with all of his shots coming around the basket.

Hoyas coach Craig Esherick knew Sweetney could take advantage of his strength inside against less physical Minnesota.

“There’s nobody we’ll play but the Lakers that I think we can’t exploit Mike inside,” Esherick said. “Mike has a unique talent and a unique ability to score on the inside, and it’s very difficult for teams to match up with him.”

Sweetney’s defense was just as important for the Hoyas. With the Gophers down seven and on a 5-0 run with just over nine minutes to play, guard Ben Johnson dribbled the length of the floor and looked to have an easy layup. But Sweetney came out of nowhere to block Johnson’s shot, and Georgetown scored to push the lead back to nine.

In addition, his presence in the paint pushed Minnesota’s post players off the block all night.

“He’s obviously a big guy,” forward Rick Rickert said. “He just took it to us.”

The frustration on offense and defense caused by Sweetney was evident on the Gophers’ faces all evening. By the end of the game, Minnesota’s players realized there was nothing they could really do.

Holman, who committed his fifth foul on Sweetney with 6:33 remaining, gave his only explanation.

“He’s just a strong dude.”

Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]