Tucker returns, so too do Gophers to winning ways

C.J. Spang

For Minnesota’s men’s basketball team, the beginning of Saturday’s game against Coastal Carolina brought back nightmares from the Gophers’ loss to Gardner-Webb.

Gardner-Webb was lights-out from three point land, finishing the game 12-20 from beyond the arc in their 73-72 win over the Gophers on Nov. 28.

Seven of Coastal Carolina’s first nine buckets were three-pointers, including their first five from the floor to take a 23-14 lead with 8:20 to play in the first half.

But unlike the game against Gardner-Webb, Minnesota was able to climb out of this early hole and end its two-game skid with a 75-57 win.

“We didn’t get frustrated this time,” sophomore center Spencer Tollackson said. “We didn’t lose our composure when they hit a couple of tough shots ” we just stuck with it.”

Sticking with it was an understatement.

In the final 6:30 of the first half, the Gophers were 9-11 from the field and 3-4 from beyond the arc. Minnesota ended on a 22-2 run to take a 38-28 lead at halftime.

“(The team) started very slow today,” coach Dan Monson said, “but went and got 11 straight stops to kind of take control in the first half.”

Minnesota didn’t show any signs of slowing down in the second half either.

The Gophers started the second half on a 15-5 run as the Chanticleers shot a frigid 2-11 from the field and 0-4 from deep. Coastal Carolina was unable to come back from Minnesota’s crippling first-half run.

“We’re kind of in survival mode,” Monson said. “It’s just good to win while you’re trying to survive and move on.

“It’s just trying to go from one day to the next of trying to get healthy and trying to get better, and that’s where this team’s at.”

Sophomore forward Dan Coleman led the Gophers with 14 points off the bench. Tollackson and senior forward J’son Stamper each chipped in 13 points.

But the biggest story surrounding Minnesota was the return of sophomore guard Rico Tucker.

After missing the first four games because of academic reasons, Tucker came into Saturday’s game and scored 10 points off the bench.

Before fouling out late in the second half, Tucker nabbed a career high six steals.

“We went into the season with high expectations of Rico being a sophomore,” Monson said. “I think what Rico gives us is another option ” Rico’s different than any other player we have.”

And another option is crucial for a Gopher team that has been decimated by injuries.

Four guards have missed at least one game this season, including star seniors Vincent Grier and Maurice Hargrow.

Hargrow left the Maryland game early with a leg injury and sat out for the Coastal Carolina contest. He’s still listed as a day-to-day decision.

With much of the backcourt watching from the sidelines, there has been even more pressure placed on freshman guards Brandon Smith and Jamal Abu-Shamala.

In the game against Coastal Carolina, Smith got his third career start and Abu-Shamala got his first.

“I told Jamal (to) just relax, it’s going to be a little up tight at first but just relax,” Smith said.

And despite being on the bench, Grier and Hargrow have been providing guidance for their younger counterparts.

“They have been supporting us a whole lot and teaching us a whole lot,” Smith said. “But of course it’s going to be difficult. Right now we’re learning, we’re coming along more and more by the day and the day’s looking all right.”