Coming off of four straight road games, Minnesota was ready to return to the friendly confines of Williams Arena. During the long road trip, the Gophers were 3-1 against tough non-conference opponents.
Tubby Smith and company battled North Florida on Saturday, Dec. 1. The Ospreys came into the game with a 3-4 record, losing to the likes of Memphis and Florida State.
The Barn started off lackadaisical Saturday as Minnesota got down quick to North Florida, 18-10. Full of early turnovers and missed open shots led to an early deficit. The Gophers used a 22-6 run at the end of the first half to spark the offense to the 87-59 victory. Multiple players, having four in double-digits, led Minnesota offensively.
The 8-1 Gophers had a season-high 87 points.
Here are five observations from Saturday’s victory over North Florida:
The Big Ten already understood that Minnesota had depth in the frontcourt. Between the length and athleticism that the Gophers possess, the team has the ability to notch several blocks a game. On Saturday, Minnesota had a season-high 13 blocks against the vertically challenged Osprey.
Junior Austin Hollins had a career-high four blocks against North Florida. Four is a high number for a small forward, but Hollins has the length to deflect a shot. Trevor Mbakwe added three blocks. The team averaged seven blocks this season before Saturday.
Not the turnover margin I expected
Turnovers have been one of the issues for Minnesota. The sophomore duo of Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman has coughed up the ball a combined 50 times in nine games. Some would think the Gophers would have more turnovers than their opponents this season after all the chatter, but that is not the case.
The trend continued Saturday. Minnesota only had 13 turnovers while forcing 22 turnovers. The multitude of forced turnovers allowed the Gophers to rack up fast break points.
Stuffing the stats
Thirteen blocks are nice. The same can be said about 15 steals and 21 offensive rebounds. Minnesota stuffed the box score, especially in the second half against North Florida.
Austin Hollins was very active on floor, snatching two steals and five offensive rebounds to go along with his stout statline. Rodney Williams did too. Six offensive rebounds and four steals were added to the senior’s line to go along with a team-high 14 points.
Mbakwe needs to start
Elliot Eliason had his best game against Florida State after accumulating 10 rebounds. He scuffled on Saturday, lending for more playing time for Mbakwe. In his extended time, Mbakwe had one of his best games of the young season. He scored in double-digits in the first half.
It does make sense to keep Mbakwe on the second string to give the team more energy when the Gophers have to make substitutions. Yet, Eliason does not add a lot to the starting lineup. He does not spark an offense. The sophomore has the height to snag rebounds, but Mbakwe has the tenacity to do the same.
The coaching staff has stuck with its starting line in all nine contests.
In need of a third dimension
There have been a couple issues for Minnesota this season, and a glaring concern came into play on Saturday: the lack of three-point shooting continued against North Florida.
The first and only three did not come until later for the Gophers. Maverick Ahanmisi nailed the only three for the team. One for 13 from beyond the arc will not do. The team has players that could make those shots. Julian Welch has a strong shot, while Coleman and Andre Hollins make shots swiftly.