As exhibited in the Gophers men’s basketball team’s 81-67 win over Applachian State, size does matter.
The Gophers, using a lineup superior in size, speed and quickness, broke open a narrow halftime lead to win their season opener against the Mountaineers. But the star of the game wasn’t forward Quincy Lewis or guard Kevin Clark — it was freshman forward Dusty Rychart.
No, it’s not a misprint. Playing because of two early fouls on Lewis and power forward Miles Tarver’s one-game suspension (see related story), Rychart finished with 11 points and four rebounds in 17 minutes.
“I thought if I kept working hard, I knew I’d get my chance,” Rychart said. “All I wanted to do was play just one minute.”
But Gophers’ coach Clem Haskins didn’t want Rychart to become his 60-second player; instead, he kept him and fellow reserves Kevin Nathaniel, Antoine Broxsie and Mitch Ohnstad in for extended minutes to wear down the quick but small starting five of Appalachian State.
“We knew they wouldn’t be intimidated by us,” Haskins said. “We thought that they would come in and play us to a standstill in our home court.”
Tarver’s suspension, which was issued by the Big Ten office hours before game time, moved sophomore Kyle Sanden to power forward and allowed freshman Joel Przybilla to make his first start of the season at center.
With the 6-foot-11 Sanden and 7-foot Przybilla in the frontcourt, the Gophers simply pounded the undersized Mountaineers in the post early and often. Minnesota burst out with a quick 10-0 lead, and with Clark and Lewis getting off to fast starts, it seemed as if the rout was on.
Enter Appalachian State forward Marshall Phillips. The muscular Phillips took matters into his own hands, nailing both inside and outside shots to close the gap to 38-33 by halftime.
“We played him all over the floor,” Mountaineer coach Buzz Peterson said. “He’s got a lot of heart.”
Phillips finished the game with 25 points and nine rebounds, both of which were game highs.
With the second half underway, it was clear that the Gophers would have to win by throwing as many combinations at Phillips and Appalachian State as possible to win the game.
One of the players stepping up his game for the Gophers was point guard Terrance Simmons, who hit two three-pointers to cushion Minnesota’s lead. Simmons, who had been criticized by Haskins during the preseason, penetrated the lane on a consistent basis and allowed the Gophers to use consistent half-court sets.
“I think Terrance did a wonderful job on us tonight,” Haskins said. “Without guards, you don’t win.”
Using Simmons and Ohnstad, Minnesota tried to counter lightning-quick Appalachian State point guard Tyson Patterson, who finished with 13 points and four assists.
“I tried to make (Patterson) shoot over me,” Simmons said. “I’m 6-foot-3 and he’s only 5-foot-9, so that gave me an advantage defending him.”
Lewis fouled out late in the game and finished with 19 points, giving him 1,008 for his career, and four rebounds. Broxsie added eight points, six rebounds, and a team-high five blocks.