Gophers hang tough, move on in preseason NIT

By the time Kris Humphries left the game to a standing ovation with 3:03 remaining Monday night, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team had turned a close game into a rout and for at least one night answered questions about its defense.

While the 11-point margin of victory against Missouri-Kansas City sounds close, Minnesota built a 22-point second-half lead and won, going away 78-67 in the preseason NIT contest.

“This was one of our better games thus far,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said.

The Gophers (1-0) will now face Utah at 9:30 Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, with a chance to make a trip to New York for Thanksgiving. The Utes defeated Georgia State 46-38.

The winner of Wednesday’s game will travel to New York for the preseason NIT Final Four next week.

The offensive star of the night was Humphries, who finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds while delighting the crowd of 10,797 at Williams Arena.

The forward displayed his jump shot in the first half and his low post ability in the second stanza. Humphries joined the Gophers after he was granted a release from Duke over the summer.

“I am most upset at (Devils coach) Mike Krzyzewski,” Kangaroos coach Rich Zvosec said with a smile. “It was a tough matchup for us. He’s going to be a heck of a player.”

Going against 6-foot-9 center Carlton Aaron, Humphries faced his first true test.

Humphries’ dominance in the low post coincided with a solid all-around team effort in the final 20 minutes. The Gophers out-rebounded Missouri-Kansas City 24-13, outscored the Kangaroos 45-40, and got the defensive stops the Gophers lacked in the first two exhibition games.

In the opening stanza, Missouri-Kansas City fought for 12 offensive rebounds. In the second half, the Gophers only allowed four. With limited second chances, Minnesota went on runs of 13-3 and 9-1.

“In the first half, they were coming out at us,” Humphries said. “I think we can match up well no matter what our opponent’s strengths are. If they are bigger than us, we can use our athleticism. We will take what they will give us.”

Kangaroos star guard Michael Watson found himself getting little and, in the process, learned a lesson about making promises.

The senior, who averaged 25.5. points per game last season, was held to eight points on 3-for-19 shooting.

Guarded by Moe Hargrow for most of the night, the Gophers limited the quality shots and Watson’s ability to drive to the basket.

And if Minnesota needed any extra motivation, the Gophers found a printed out version of a newspaper article in each of their lockers prior to the game.

In the story appearing in a Kansas City newspaper, Watson guaranteed a victory for Missouri-Kansas City.

“I wanted to focus and stay low on him,” said Hargrow, who finished with 18 points. “I had to keep him out of rhythm.”

On the strength of an almost five-minute Kangaroos scoring drought to end the first half, Minnesota built a 33-27 lead at intermission.

While Humphries scored 12 points in the half, it was the play of point guard Adam Boone that turned a 27-27 tie into a six-point lead at the break.

On successive trips down court, Boone broke through the Kangaroos defense and made no-look passes to Jeff Hagen and Humphries for easy baskets.

“A point guard and a coach are in the same realm,” Boone said. “They are measured by wins. I just want to win.”

The junior finished with eight assists, five rebounds and zero points. But it was another zero in his statistics that might be just as important.

The Minnetonka, Minn., native did not turn the ball over.

“It shows how a kid can have a good game without scoring a point,” Monson said.