Mbakwe Makes Impact From the LIne

Posted: November 18, 2011 by Kodi in BBall, Gopher Redemption, NCAA


Gophers win another non-conference match-up improve to 3-0


But Minnesota did turn the ball over a season high 23 times


Trevor Mbakwe had his 3rd double-double in as many games


The senior Forward hit 16 Free Throws, just one shy of a school record

Minnesota welcomed the Fairfield Stags to The Barn continuing their non-conference play. New head coach Sydney Johnson, formerly Princeton University’s HC, travels to Dinkytown with 4 of 5 starters from a team that finished 25-8 and made it to the NIT in 2010-11. The Stags came into Minnesota 1-1 after losing to their former coach Ed Cooley and Providence on Monday after falling down by double digits early and failing to make a comeback.

Fairfield has never played the Minnesota Gophers and has only played a team from the Big Ten 8 times and their only victory came against Northwestern in the 1976-77 season. The match-up once again was extremely favorable for the Gophers and HC Tubby Smith is 3-0 all-time against teams in the MAAC. Fairfield however is the defending regular season champions of the MAAC and were one of the best defensive teams in college basketball holding its opposition to a 43.3% field goal an 32% from the 3 point line.

Minnesota started the game just like they have in their prior two match-ups, extremely lethargic. Their biggest lead of the first half was just 5 points which happened after a emphatic one handed Austin Hollins dunk with 1:04 left. The game was at 29-24 and although the Gophers had a few more possessions before entering the locker room they were unable to increase the lead. The 5 point halftime lead is actually the largest the Gophers have had all season, leading by just 2 points in their first 2 games at half.

The 24 points that Fairfield scored were the least given up by Minnesota in the first half of a game but the 29 the Gophers did score was also the lowest of the year. The Stags have an impressive senior duo in the low post with 7’ Center Ryan Olander and 6’5” F Rakim Sanders who combine for an average of 35 points per game. Minnesota allowed Olander to score 6 points, two layups while going 2-4 from the line and Sanders hit an early three assisted by Olander and two separate layups.

The two scored 13 of the Stags 24 first half points but unlike Minnesota, Fairfield rarely relies on any of its bench players to make an impact offensively. The two would finish the game with 14 points each shooting a combined 9-23 from the field and a dismal 1-8 from the 3 point line. As a team the Stags were 2-16 from beyond the arc, just 12.5% from 3 point land which is the best game defensive for Minnesota in that stat all season long. The Gophers 3 point defense looks good on paper but realistically it was a lot more of bad shooting by Fairfield than great defense on the perimeter.

The Gophers had one goal on offense, feed Trevor Mbakwe, early and often and the team did just that. Mbakwe hit 10 of his 16 free throws in the second half. Mbakwe finished the game 16-18 from the line, an impressive improvement after shooting under 63% from the line last season. Trevor was 14-22 from the free throw line coming into this game and knew that he had a glaring hole to fix in his game. He spent a lot of time at the line in the off-season and wouldn’t let himself leave the floor after practice until hitting 50 free throws.

The persistence seems to be paying off for the big man who is now 30-40 from the line, a 12% increase, albeit he’s just 3 games into his season. Tubby Smith knows “Trevor and the weapons he’s got, as far as his physicality inside. He’s going to get fouled. . . When you have a guy that can do that you know you’re always in the game, and that can stop the bleeding. When you’re not scoring, you can get it to him and force the foul”.

Trevor seems to be embracing the role telling reporters “I missed too many free throws last year. I know teams are going to foul me the way I play, and I need to make them pay for those fouls from the line”. Mbakwe had two other baskets throughout the game and finished with 20 points, the first time he broke that plateau this season and the 30th time in his career to break double figures.

Mbakwe also pulled down 10 rebounds, 3 offensive, had 1 assist, 2 steals and 1 block while turning the ball over 4 times and committing just 2 fouls in 34 minutes. It is Mbakwe’s 3rd straight double-double, the 22nd of his career and 6th consecutive going back to last season. The beautiful part of Mbakwe’s night was his success from the line and he even admitted “It’s a good feeling. I think it’s one of the things down the stretch last year, where I was kind of uncomfortable I guess. I might not have been as aggressive . . . because depending on how the game might have been, I might have missed 5 or 6 free throws”. Mbakwe with confidence can only mean bad things for opposing big men but will the senior forward be enough to propel this team into the tournament?

The only other offensive spark worthy of discussing in the second half was back-to-back 3 pointers by F Oto Osenieks who finished the game with a career high 8 points. Osenieks was 2-3 from beyond the arc but the rest of the Gophers were 0-5 and Minnesota still hasn’t found a reliable player to hit the long shot when necessary. G Andre Hollins also scored a career high in the game against Fairfield scoring 12 points, 2-3 from the floor and 8-9 from the line, in just 20 minutes of play but had a team high 5 turnovers.

Fellow Gophers guard Austin Hollins, no relation to Andre, said of Dre Hollins play; “He was definitely a lot more aggressive. . . and you know it’s a learning experience, and every day they try to get better. They’re going to learn and I think the experience will help [Hollins] farther along the road”. Minnesota committed 23 turnovers as a team and had a big problem controlling the ball, which pissed off Tubby. “I thought Fairfield and Coach Johnson had a good game plan for us. They really created a lot of problems for us” Smith continued “In terms of handling the pressure, we had 23 turnovers, which is really disappointing for us. We were really disorganized. So that is the area of concern”.


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