In its exhibition opener, the Minnesota men’s basketball team looked ready to start the regular season, even if its opponent Tuesday night didn’t have anyone taller than 6-foot-7.
Behind a hot start by junior center Ralph Sampson III, the Gophers scored the first 12 points and coasted to a 109-59 win over Northeastern State at Williams Arena.
Sampson hit four of his first five shots and finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, but a senior captain stole the show after Sampson’s early spark.
Blake Hoffarber’s hot three-point shooting carried over from last season as he hit six of eight from downtown, including a first-half stretch in which he scored nine straight points for the Gophers. He finished with 20 points, six assists and four rebounds.
“Any time one player’s getting energy, that’s what you want, to pick up the other guys if they’re not doing as well,” Hoffarber said about Sampson’s start. “Ralph’s energy definitely helped us, and he played a great game.”
The best of Hoffarber’s assists was to sophomore forward Rodney Williams, who slammed home an alley-oop on a three-on-one fast break in the first half. Williams scored 13 points, but coach Tubby Smith said he still has work to do.
“His stamina and his endurance, I think that’s a big, big concern when I see Rodney play,” Smith said. “He’s got to continue to grow in that area.”
Forward Colton Iverson took advantage of Northeastern State’s lack of size with a double-double on 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Then there were the new guys, and they didn’t disappoint.
Junior transfer Trevor Mbakwe played well on both ends of the floor and had a few electric dunks, including a one-handed slam off a feed from Williams in the second half. He finished with 13 points, leading the bench.
“I’ve waited a long time for this, and I’m glad I finally got a chance to play,” said Mbakwe, who missed last season with a since-dropped assault charge. “I’ve just got to keep building on this.”
True freshman Austin Hollins displayed his ability to score both in the paint and from the outside. After grabbing a steal in the first half, he ran the fast break and fooled two defenders with a behind-the-back dribble before laying it in for two. He finished with nine points to lead the freshmen.
“I can see a relationship developing here, a real chemistry and a bond,” Smith said.
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
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