Coleman leads Gophers past Jackrabbits

Minnesota had 24 assists on 32 field goals in interim coach Jim Molinari’s second win at the helm of the program.

Zach Eisendrath

Playing its fourth game in eight days, the regulars on Minnesota’s men’s basketball team needed a rest.

Fortunately, the Gophers had the opportunity, for the most part, to take it easy Thursday night against South Dakota State.

Led by junior forward Dan Coleman, who scored a season-high 28 points, Minnesota dismantled the Jackrabbits 77-53 in front of 10,086 fans at Williams Arena.

“I think if you want to have a great team, you need to prefer fitting in to standing out. You need to make the team stand out,” interim coach Jim Molinari said. “And that’s something I think we did (Thursday).”

After a double-overtime loss just two nights ago, in which five Gophers set career highs in minutes played, Minnesota players received a much-needed relaxation period, as Molinari removed all five starters with 9:45 remaining in the game.

“Coach Mo has been practicing us pretty hard in between games,” junior center Spencer Tollackson said. “So I was happy to get a little rest there towards the end.”

But midway through the first half, it didn’t appear Molinari would have the luxury of emptying his bench.

As the Gophers came out flat, South Dakota State, which hit back-to-back three-pointers to start the game, built a six-point lead midway through the half, 23-17.

“When you work them hard, they tend to come out flat,” Molinari said of his team. “(But) not that flat.”

Minnesota rallied quickly, however. The Gophers (3-6, 0-0 Big Ten) went on a monstrous 28-5 run – in large part due to Coleman – to take a 45-28 lead into the locker room.

From there the Jackrabbits (2-7, Division I Independent) didn’t put up much of a fight. Minnesota limited SDSU to 22.2 percent shooting in the second half and the Gophers were able to put their foot on cruise control as their lead ballooned to 33.

But the story of the night was Coleman. Minnesota’s most consistent offensive player all year continued his hot streak.

Coleman had 20 first-half points, giving him his seventh double-digit performance in the last nine games.

And on a night in which the Gophers had 24 assists on 32 field goals, Coleman deflected most of the attention to the teammates, which have been setting him up rather nicely.

“My teammates have been giving me easy assists,” he said. “My job is just to finish.”

After a heartbreaking 88-81 loss to the University of Alabama-Birmingham just 48 hours earlier, junior guard Lawrence McKenzie said it was good to get back the court.

“That game kind of left (us) feeling empty,” he said. “So we wanted to come out and play right away.”

And after blowing a late double digit lead last Saturday against Arizona State, McKenzie said it was nice to not have to sweat out a win for a change.

“A big win like this is good for us because we haven’t had one like this all season,” he said.

Tollackson, who called the win a “confidence game,” said Minnesota’s focus with three games remaining before the Big Ten season is to finally establish a winning streak – something the Gophers have been unable to accomplish thus far.

“Winning solves a lot of problems,” he said.

Weekend matchup

Minnesota will continue its three-game homestand Saturday, when it hosts the University of Arkansas-Little Rock at noon at Williams Arena. The Trojans are 4-5 this season.