Second-half slump causes concern for men’s hoops

by Anthony Maggio

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team made its season opener against University of North Carolina at Asheville a little more exciting than most anticipated Sunday ñ and not in a good way.

After leading the Bulldogs by 23 points at halftime, the Gophers lost nearly all their intensity and edged UNC Ashville 87-81.

“That game is pretty indicative of where our basketball team is right now,” Coach Dan Monson said. “I think we’re doing a lot of good things, but we’re not sustaining any of them.”

Minnesota (1-0) was firing on all cylinders early on, scoring the game’s first eight points, and having the Bulldogs score at least doubled for a stretch of more than 10 minutes.

Forwards Rick Rickert and Michael Bauer led the early surge, both scoring 15 first-half points. The Gophers scored 50 points while committing only three turnovers.

But the game changed dramatically after halftime.

“We thought we had the game done and we just let up a bit and they took advantage of it,” Bauer said.

UNC Asheville (0-2) went to a zone defense, and the Gophers were often standing around and didn’t attack the seams.

Defensively, Minnesota was on its heels and allowed the Bulldogs 54 second-half points.

Senior Andre Smith dropped 27 points on the Gophers to lead all scorers, 19 of which came in the second half.

Rickert led Minnesota with 26 points including five three-pointers. Maurice Hargrow contributed a career-high 21 points and Bauer finished with 20.

Minnesota led by 17 or more for the first 13 minutes of the second half but with just over seven minutes left, UNC Asheville began its run.

“They need to play more consistent, hard defense,” Bulldogs Coach Eddie Biedenbach said. “You don’t need to go out there and let the other team hang around, because if we get a couple of breaks, we might win a game like this.”

As the Bulldogs chipped away at the lead, the Gophers struggled to score, especially from the free throw line.

Minnesota was 12-for-24 in the second half from the charity stripe and 57.5 percent for the game.

“It was horrendous,” Hargrow said. “We can’t afford down the stretch to not make free throws, because that’s what wins and loses games.”

The Gophers were also out-rebounded by the undersized Bulldogs 42-35, including 18 offensive boards for UNC Asheville.

“There’s no excuse or explanation for how you can contain a team like we did in the first half and then let them do what they did in the second half,” Monson said.

But in the end, the Gophers big first half was too much for one of the Big South’s finest to overcome, and Minnesota got away with a poor second half to sneak by with a win – barely.

“This doesn’t even feel like a victory,” Rickert said.