Mbakwe To End Gophers Season!

Posted: November 29, 2011 by Kodi in BBall, Gopher Redemption, NCAA

Fucking Christ! Can a guy get a break? Really just had to ruin Basketball season to didn’t you God?

With Mbakwe gone the Gophers flutter in Old Spice Classic Championship and their season is in jeopardy

Is there really any other options for Tubby Smith without his best player BY FAR?

The Minnesota Golden Gopher basketball team traveled to Orlando, Florida to participate in the Old Spice Classic tournament. They faced a DePaul team that was 2-0 on the season behind a pair of sophomore’s, G Brandon Young and F Cleveland Melvin. Minnesota had made it to halftime trailing the Blue Demons 43-33 after giving up 5 three point field goals.

The Gophers however got it together in the 2nd half and worked their way back into the game by attacking the basket and finishing with some vicious dunks or getting fouled and sent to the line. They  managed to tie the game and take the lead on a pair of G Andre Ingram free throws making it 72-71  with 8:02 left in the game. The Gophers never gave up the lead although it was extremely close as their largest lead was just 4 points in the game.

Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin turned out to be a difficult match-up for Minnesota as the two combined for 43 total points. Young had 23 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 turnovers while Melvin had 20 points, going 6-6 from the line, with 5 rebounds, 1 offensive, a steal, 2 blocks and 4 turnovers. After allowing the Blue Demons to make 5 three pointers in the first half DePaul made just 1 in the second half and finished the game 6-19 from beyond the arc.

The three point line has been unfriendly to the Gophers both offensively and defensively although on this night they seemed to have gotten it right in the latter portion of the game. They were however 1-9 from deep with the only made bucket coming from G Julian Welch. Senior F Trevor Mbakwe recorded another double double finishing the game with 16 points, 12 rebounds, 7 offensive, 2 assists, 2 steals, a block and 3 turnovers while shooting 6-7 from the field a 4-6 from the line.

In the Gophers last game F Rodney Williams exploited a weak Mount St. Mary’s team and threw down 5 mean dunks. That may have given the young man some confidence as he aggressively attacked the hoop again against DePaul. He finished the game with a season high 18 points, pulling down 5 rebounds, 2 offensive, 2 assists, 2 steals and just 2 turnovers while shooting 7-9 from the floor and a poor 5-8 from the line.

The Gophers have struggled as a team from the free throw line and tonight was another night shooting a dismal 17-27, 63%, against DePaul. Two of those missed free throws came from Welch who missed them with 13 seconds left in the game. Instead of closing it out Welch bricked a couple of free points but was saved when Williams pulled down a big rebound. The Blue Demons still had a shot to tie the game but Moses Morgan missed the three pointer. Ultimately the Gophers walked away with a 86-85 victory and moved on to the second round to face Indiana St. who had knocked off Texas Tech.

The DePaul game was supposed to be a challenge for the Gophers and it was but their second round match with the Indiana State Sycamores wasn’t supposed to be the second act. But it was. Minnesota fell behind almost immediately allowing the mighty Sycamores to drain their first 2 three point shots and jumping out to a quick 6-0 lead.

The Gophers fought back with a few three pointers of their own and after Austin and Andre Hollins and Oto Osenieks made baskets Minnesota found themselves ahead 25-20. The Sycamores however ended the half on a 20-8 run and went into the locker room with a 40-33 halftime lead. Minnesota struggled mightily to defend the three point shot and allowed Indiana State to make 8 three pointers in the first half. After scoring a combined 34 points in the last game Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe score just 2 total points in the first half against the Sycamores.

The Gophers were trailing for most of the second half as well but were able to fight their way back into the game. Minnesota took their first lead of the second half when G Chip Armelin made a layup to put the Gophers up 67-66 with just 2:09 left in the game. The Gophers would finish the game on a 11-3 run and win the game 76-69 and scored their final 9 points from the free throw line. Trevor Mbakwe scored just 9 points and pulled down 9 boards marking the 2nd time in the season that he didn’t record a double double.

The Gophers were carried by their young guards but young Julian Welch was the hot hand for the game. He played for just 22 minutes but scored 17 points, pulled down 6 rebounds, recorded 1 assist and 1 steal while going 5-8 from the floor, 1-1 from beyond the arc and 6-6 from the line. Andre Hollins completed to turn his game up and scored 16 points shooting 5-7 from the floor while hitting 4 of 5 shots from beyond the three point line and recording 2 assists and a steal in just 19 minutes of floor time. Chip Armelin added another 13 points but struggled from the floor making just 5 of 11 shots and missing his only 2 three point attempts. The three guards in total scored 46 of the Gophers 76 points but Williams and Mbakwe combined for just 12 total points.

The Gophers were on their way to the Old Spice Classic championship game and were facing the Dayton Flyers. The game started off well for Minnesota who jumped out to a quick 20-10 lead behind great play by Welch, Armelin and Austin Hollins. However the Gophers were plagued by the three point shot yet again allowing the Dayton team to make 7 of them in the first half and once again Minnesota found themselves down at halftime. The Flyers finished the first half on a 20-3 run and Minnesota has got to learn to not play so streaky and cover  the perimeter a lot better or this will be a long season.

It turns out that the season is going to be extremely long and challenging and it isn’t because of Minnesota’s poor perimeter defense. Trevor Mbakwe sustained a devastating right knee injury while fighting underneath the bucket for a rebound. It seems as if his right knee buckled and he immediately dropped to the floor in pain. Minnesota was trailing 45-36 but that was just a single game, Mbakwe’s injury looked bad and when he returned to the bench with ice on his knee and his crying eyes hidden underneath a towel you were just waiting for the inevitable.

Sure enough after an MRI on Monday it was announced that Mbakwe tore his right ACL and will miss the entire season. Minnesota looked to make it back to the tournament but after losing their most dominant force and team leader in points and rebounds for the rest of the season. Mbakwe has a chance to apply for a medical 6th year but that option seems highly unlikely and Mbakwe’s college basketball career may be over.  Head Coach Tubby Smith said in a statement, “we are certainly going to miss him. He’s having a great year. He’s our leader. He’s been a big emotional leader for us. Our players look up to Trevor, not just because of his talent, but because of his work ethic, and the type of person he’s been”.

Mbakwe came out with his own statement that said “my family and I would like to thank everyone for their support” and later expressed his feeling on Twitter. “I’m so lucky to have all the support I’ve been getting. It doesn’t feel real yet but Ill get better and rehab like crazy. I love al of [you] and thanks so much” Mbakwe told his followers. He followed that up with this tweet, “I’m proud to watch my teammates finish the season strong [without] me they all worked so hard and this [sic] definitely wasn’t a one man team. Time to beat {Virginia Tech Wednesday] #GopherNation”.

I wish Mbakwe absolutely the best and hope that he has a fast and speedy recovery but he is wrong, this was a one man team. After he left early in the second half of the Old Spice Classic championship game his team was down just 9 points. The Gophers had faced 2nd half deficits in every game in this tournament and had been able to battle back in the first two games but without Mbakwe an uphill battle became Kilimanjaro-like. Minnesota went on to lose their first game of the year by 16 points with the Flyers winning 86-70.

The Flyers were led by tournament MVP Kevin Dillard and Chris Johnson who combined for 37 of their teams 86 points. Once again the Gophers were beaten by the three point shot allowing Dayton to hit 12 of their 27 attempts. Minnesota tried to answer but they made just 7 of their 18 three point attempts and were led in scoring by sophomore g Austin Hollins who finished with 14. Julian Welch added another 12 for Minnesota but in the end it was Mbakwe’s domination of the boards that the Gophers missed the most. Mbakwe had 4 rebounds in the 21 minutes he played in the game and the next best rebounder was G Maverick Ahanmisi who had 3 and the team had just 24 total rebounds.

I am scared that the Minnesota Gophers basketball season may look eerily similar to the football season without Trevor Mbakwe but I am not writing them off yet, at least not til Big Ten play. Rodney Williams will likely shift to PF and our young guns will get a lot more floor time to prove themselves. I believe that Tubby will likely shift Julian Welch into the starting lineup but in the end we have no replacement for Mbakwe’s size and power. Ralph Sampson will have a lot of pressure on him down low now and I am fearful for when this team faces a team with a powerful force down low. The Gophers next game is in the Big Ten ACC Classic against Virginia Tech at The Barn.


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