Gophers cruise in exhibition opener

Minnesota jumped out to an early 12-0 lead and beat Northeastern State 109-59.

Gophers cruise in exhibition opener

Josh Katzenstein

In its exhibition opener, the Minnesota menâÄôs basketball team looked ready to start the regular season, even if its opponent Tuesday night didnâÄôt have anyone taller than 6-foot-7.

Behind a hot start by junior center Ralph Sampson III, the Gophers scored the first 12 points and coasted to a 109-59 win over Northeastern State at Williams Arena.

Sampson hit four of his first five shots and finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, but a senior captain stole the show after SampsonâÄôs early spark.

Blake HoffarberâÄôs hot three-point shooting carried over from last season as he hit six of eight from downtown, including a first-half stretch in which he scored nine straight points for the Gophers. He finished with 20 points, six assists and four rebounds.

âÄúAny time one playerâÄôs getting energy, thatâÄôs what you want, to pick up the other guys if theyâÄôre not doing as well,âÄù Hoffarber said about SampsonâÄôs start. âÄúRalphâÄôs energy definitely helped us, and he played a great game.âÄù

The best of HoffarberâÄôs assists was to sophomore forward Rodney Williams, who slammed home an alley-oop on a three-on-one fast break in the first half. Williams scored 13 points, but coach Tubby Smith said he still has work to do.

âÄúHis stamina and his endurance, I think thatâÄôs a big, big concern when I see Rodney play,âÄù Smith said. âÄúHeâÄôs got to continue to grow in that area.âÄù

Forward Colton Iverson  took advantage of Northeastern StateâÄôs lack of size with a double-double on 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Then there were the new guys, and they didnâÄôt disappoint.

Junior transfer Trevor Mbakwe played well on both ends of the floor and had a few electric dunks, including a one-handed slam off a feed from Williams in the second half. He finished with 13 points, leading the bench.

âÄúIâÄôve waited a long time for this, and IâÄôm glad I finally got a chance to play,âÄù said Mbakwe, who missed last season with a since-dropped assault charge. âÄúIâÄôve just got to keep building on this.âÄù

True freshman Austin Hollins displayed his ability to score both in the paint and from the outside. After grabbing a steal in the first half, he ran the fast break and fooled two defenders with a behind-the-back dribble before laying it in for two. He finished with nine points to lead the freshmen.

âÄúI can see a relationship developing here, a real chemistry and a bond,âÄù Smith said.