Terps too much for Gophers in first round

by Zach Eisendrath

The journey is over.

The Minnesota men’s basketball team lost to Maryland 68-58 in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament Tuesday night at Williams Arena, ending Tubby Smith’s first year at the helm of the Gophers.

In the end, a depleted Minnesota roster couldn’t keep up with the highly talented Terrapins (19-14), who beat No. 1 North Carolina earlier this season on the road.

Senior shooting guard Lawrence McKenzie played just three minutes – all in the second half – after injuring his foot during the Gophers Big Ten tournament semifinals loss to Illinois.

Freshman shooting guard Blake Hoffarber played after breaking a bone in his shooting hand earlier this week. Sophomore guard Lawrence Westbrook, who started every game for the maroon and gold, has played nearly all year with a torn tendon in his hand, and is expected to have surgery this week.

Less than 100 percent, himself, senior center Spencer Tollackson sat on the bench with the game in the balance Tuesday after tweaking his ankle during the conference tournament.

Minnesota’s injury list got longer in the first half when junior center Jonathan Williams rolled an ankle and it appeared senior forward Dan Coleman injured a finger going up for a block attempt.

“This rash of injuries just came at the wrong time,” Smith said. “They kind of all piled up here at one time near the end.”

Said sophomore forward Damian Johnson who led the team with 14 points in 35 minutes of action, “At one point I was the only post player available, so it was tough. It was rough on us rebounding wise.” The Gophers lost 47-38 on the boards.

Maryland, who went on to beat the Orangemn of Syracuse in the second round of the NIT, capitalized on the Gophers’ misfortunes early in the second half.

After a poor shooting, back- and-forth first half – Minnesota shot 33.3 percent from the field, Maryland shot 34.5 – the Terrapins took a 33-32 lead into the half. Two straight alley oop dunks by James Gist, who had just two points in the first half, helped ignite a 12-2 run for the Terrapins who took a 45-34 second half lead.

The Terrapins blew double-digit leads in three of their final six games, but that wouldn’t be the case Tuesday night. A Blake Hoffarber three pointer cut Maryland’s lead to five at 58-53 with less than four minutes remaining, but Gist hit another three and the Gophers watched their season end in front of a small but appreciative 3,882 fans at the Barn Tuesday night.

“The turnaround that we had was more than a lot of people expected, but us as a team, we are obviously disappointed with the way we placed.

“Nobody wanted to lose this game,” junior forward Jamal Abu-Shamala said. “We wanted to send a message that we could have been in the NCAA tournament. I feel we had a good season. There were a lot of games we let slip away in the end that we felt we could have won, but that’s something we need to work on for next year, and come back with an attitude that we can win those games.”

After bouncing back from a program-worst 9-22 season with the fourth-best turnaround in the NCAA, those returning for the Gophers next season are already expecting big things.

“Everyone has had playing time this year,” Abu-Shamala said. “I’m speaking for the whole team and I know the guys and what they put in, to put in what it takes to be a great team. We’ll do great things this summer, meshing with the new guys, getting ready for next year.”

Williams, Terps, prove committee wrong

Maryland men’s basketball coach Gary Williams was not a happy camper entering Tuesday night’s NIT first round game against Minnesota at Williams Arena.

Besides being upset about missing out on the NCAA tournament after the Terrapins lost five of their final six games, Williams was disappointed that his team – seeded fifth – had to travel to Minneapolis to face the fourth-seeded Gophers.

In Williams’ estimation, he believed the NIT selection committee screwed up by placing Maryland, out of the No. 1 RPI conference – the ACC – on the road against a middle-of-the pack Big Ten team.

“They had beaten Northwestern twice, Penn State twice, Michigan twice and Iowa once for seven out of their eight wins,” Williams said before the game. “You don’t do that in our league.”

After a first-round road win, Williams may have proved his point.