Minnesota played its best game of the season in upsetting the No. 10 Butler Bulldogs 82-73 in the opening round of 76 Classic.
The game was an upset because the Bulldogs were the higher ranked team going in. However, the best team on the floor clearly was Minnesota as they outplayed Butler for most of the game.
The Gophers used their usual formula of success, suffocating defense and balanced scoring, to wear down Butler.
The Gopher aggressive man defense forced Butler into committing 21 turnovers. Several Butler shots were blocked and almost all were contested. The Bulldogs shot only 33 percent from the floor.
The play which epitomized the game was the 15 second sequence made by the Gopher reserve players at the 1:46 mark at the end of the first half with the game tied at 27.
Butler’s Avery Jukes weaved through the lane and appeared to be on his way to a lay-up when reserve Colton Iverson made an incredible athletic move to block his shot from behind. The Gophers quickly retrieved the ball and raced down the court.
Reserve guard Devoe Joseph made a nice move to get himself open for a quick uncontested three point shot. The shot looked good but rattled out. Iverson, who had been hustling down the court on the play, fought off two Bulldogs for the rebound.
Iverson showing patience in the paint waited for the inevitable double-team. As Butler’s defense rotated, Iverson found a wide-open Blake Hoffarber for a three pointer.
Butler called a time-out as the crowd began to make noise. Minnesota would never relinquish the lead.
The 15-second sequence showcased some of the depth of the Gophers. There is little or no drop off when one of the Gopher reserves comes into the game.
Iverson was a force inside with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in only 18 minutes of action.
Hoffarber played well scoring 12 points on 3-5 shooting from beyond the arc and not allowing Butler to collapse.
Joseph added 14 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds off the bench. Joseph also hit two three-point shots in the final four minutes of the game to dash any hope that Butler may have had for mounting a comeback.
Minnesota’s reserves needed to pick up the slack for starters Rodney Williams and Al Nolen. Because of foul trouble, Williams played only three minutes. Nolen fouled out of the game scoring only two points in limited action.
Nolen uncharacteristically even picked up a technical foul for kicking the basketball after being called for a foul.
Butler stayed within striking distance for most of game by taking advantage of a tightly officiated game to get to the free throw line. The Bulldogs scored half of their points from the charity stripe as they made 80 percent of their 45 free throws.
As the season progresses, the Gophers will need to avoid allowing their opponents the opportunity to beat them from the free throw line.
Next up for the Gophers are the Portland Pilots. Coach Tubby Smith should not have any problems getting his team to focus on Portland as Portland has played well this season.
Portland demolished UCLA 74-47 in its first round game of the tournament to raise its record to 4-0. Prior to the tournament, Portland beat Oregon 88-81. The Pilots could go a long way to securing a NCAA bid with an upset over the Gophers.
Minnesota should however wear down the Pilots with their bench on their way to playing for the 76 Classic tournament title.