McKenzie and Coleman take over in win

Junior center Spencer Tollackson suffered an injury while diving for a loose ball.

Zach Eisendrath

Prior to the season, Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson said he expected his inexperienced team might have to win some games in an ugly manner during the early stages of the season.

Friday night, Monson’s team picked up one of those unattractive victories.

The Gophers looked less than stellar, but still managed to defeat Long Island 70-54 at Williams Arena.

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Junior guard Lawrence McKenzie scored a team-high 24 points and junior forward Dan Coleman poured in 23 points, but no other player scored in double figures.

“I felt like we didn’t have the energy or Ö (the) overall passion we had (against North Dakota State),” Monson said. “And I think that’s the biggest concern for me.”

Another issue which could cause distress for Monson and Minnesota fans alike is the possible loss of junior center Spencer Tollackson.

Tollackson suffered a left ankle injury while scrambling for a loose ball with just under nine minutes remaining in the contest. The severity of his injury was unknown after the game.

With or without Tollackson, Monson said the Gophers (2-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) need to rebound better than they did Friday. Minnesota was out-rebounded 44 to 39 by the Blackbirds.

Monson also said he thought the team took a step back defensively, giving up more uncontested shots than in previous games.

But he said he would much rather win during difficult stretches than fall victim to defeat.

“If you win and you’re still learning, it’s a lot better than having to lose to learn,” he said.

Minnesota jumped out to a 5-1 advantage, but after Monson replaced all five starters just 2:19 into the game, the subs couldn’t find a rhythm and Long Island (1-1, 0-0 Northeast Conference) took a 12-7 lead.

It was the second straight game Monson implemented the five-man mass substitution pattern into his game plan. He said his objective was to find better defensive intensity.

Despite letting the lead slip away for a few moments, Minnesota regained it quickly when McKenzie returned and sparked a rally to give Minnesota a 37-29 halftime lead.

Although he was taken out during personal hot stretches, McKenzie said he likes the idea of substituting by the masses.

“I think it is a good idea,” he said. “It makes us work harder. That time you are in, you know you have five minutes, so you’re going to go as hard as you can during that five minutes.”

In the second half, both teams lacked offensive consistency.

The Gophers went cold for the first three minutes of the second half and the Blackbirds cut their deficit to four in the early stages of the half.

But fortunately for Minnesota, the Blackbirds shot 26.5 percent from the field in the second half (30.3 percent for the game) and couldn’t get any closer.

A couple minutes later, three-pointers by Coleman and McKenzie launched a 10-2 Minnesota run extending the Gophers’ lead to 45-35.

McKenzie and Coleman shouldered the offensive load for Minnesota the entire game, something they may have to do more if Tollackson misses action.

“I think both of them got shots they are very capable of making,” Monson said. “And they are going to have to carry us offensively, (because) they have the experience and have been through these types of times.”

McKenzie said the Gophers need to play with a chip on their shoulder all year, something he said they didn’t do Friday night.

Coleman echoed the same sentiments.

“We definitely didn’t handle success probably as well as we should have,” he said. “We have a lot of young players, so we thought the win (against North Dakota State), we did something, but in actuality, we have a long ways to go.”