Latest NCAA News
Nov 25, 2021
Both teams leaned on their defensive prowess to win the NBA and NCAA titles last season, respectively. Far from an offensive juggernaut this season, the Gophers have remained undefeated by making it tough for opponents to score, something that continued Wednesday night in a 55-44 victory against Jacksonville at Williams Arena. Payton Willis and Jamison Battle combined for 31 points for the Gophers, who held the Dolphins to 32% shooting from the field, including 1-for-15 from three-point range. The Gophers, who are off to a 5-0 start for the second straight season, only scored 30 points in the first half Wednesday, but they still held a comfortable 10-point advantage. Minnesota's scoring droughts this season have made it difficult to pull away at times, but a fundamental part of the team's identity this season is to make the opposition feel just as miserable. For the second straight game, the Gophers found themselves trailing in the first half in front of the home crowd. Jacksonville's three-point lead early was short lived after being held to just 31 % shooting and committing nine turnovers by halftime. In a 78-49 win against Purdue Fort Wayne last week, the Gophers erased a 10-point early deficit with an aggressive man-to-man pressure defense that forced 11 of IPFW's 20 turnovers in the first half. The undersized Gophers were outrebounded for the second straight game — and in alarming fashion 46-28 Wednesday. They're one of the worst teams in the nation in offensive rebounding but don't send many players to crash the boards off missed shots. Johnson rather have bodies hustling back to stop transition baskets, guard the three-point line, and hold opponents to one shot. Minnesota entered Wednesday first in the Big Ten in three-point percentage defense (23.9), first in defensive rebounding (33.0), second in steals (8.25), sixth in turnover margin (plus-1.25), and sixth in blocks (4.25). As much as the Gophers are becoming known for their defense under Johnson, they've also made huge strides shooting from the three-point line this season. Former Minnesota coach Richard Pitino's squad shot a program-record low and Big Ten-worst 28.4% on three-pointers last season. The Gophers ranked fifth in the conference at 37.6% from beyond the arc this season, which helped them build a cushion late Wednesday. The Dolphins (2-2) pulled within 43-35 after Gyasi Powell's layup just under eight minutes to play, but E.J. Stephens and Payton Willis nailed consecutive threes to squash any comeback attempt. Sean Sutherlin provided a spark off the bench with 10 points, including eight points in the first half. It wasn't an impressive night shooting from long distance for the Gophers (4-for-19), but Jacksonville missed its first 14 threes until the waning seconds when the game was out of reach. Dolphins leading scorer Jordan Davis, who averaged 14 points, was held to four points on 1-for-11 shooting. Johnson knew games would have to be won ugly with defense this season with Wednesday night being the perfect example. Marcus Fuller covers Gophers men's basketball and college basketball for the Star Tribune. He has 13 years of experience covering Twin Cities college and professional sports.