WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Entering Saturday’s game against the Gophers men’s basketball team, Purdue guard Lewis Jackson said he wanted to “bully” Blake Hoffarber.
After all, Hoffarber was making just his second start at point guard, filling in for Al Nolen who broke his right foot last week and is sidelined indefinitely.
Jackson’s plan worked to perfection, bottling up Hoffarber with the help of Ryne Smith — and some hand and body checks — as 12th-ranked Purdue used a second half surge to beat No. 16 Minnesota, 73-61.
The Boilermakers hit seven of 11 3-pointers in the second half to turn what was a three-point game at the half into a rout. They also held Hoffarber, the Gophers’ leading scorer, to just five points through the first two-thirds of the game.
“You can tell they really miss Nolen,” Jackson said, adding that he and Smith wanted to especially shut down Hoffarber because he torched Purdue for 26 points to carry the Gophers to victory on Jan. 13 in Minneapolis. Nolen had 13 points, eight assists and three steals in 39 minutes during the first meeting.
Junior forward Trevor Mbakwe led the Gophers with 17 points and 12 rebounds Saturday, but he had four of the team’s 12 turnovers and missed two dunks. Hoffarber finished with 14 points and played all 40 minutes, but he looked frustrated for most of the game.
“They definitely pressured Blake, and you could tell that that’s what they were focusing on,” Gophers center Colton Iverson said. “Their defenders were all over him. I thought they probably could’ve called some more calls, but I know Blake was really flustered out there, and we just need to get more open on the wing and open it up for him.”
Hoffarber was so heavily guarded that he went 1-for-5 from the field in the first half and didn’t even attempt a 3-point shot, but the Gophers led for much of the first half behind solid defense and some great shooting by Ralph Sampson, who scored eight points in the half. The junior forward hit an 18-footer as the shot clock expired to give the Gophers a 22-17 lead with 5:12 left. From there, though, the Boilermakers closed the half on a 12-4 run to take a 29-26 lead at the break.
Then Purdue started the second half on an 8-2 run, and the Gophers never sniffed a lead again. After senior JaJuan Johnson, who had a game-high 24 points, hit a jumper over Mbakwe with 10:55 remaining and gave Purdue a 50-39 lead, the Gophers never cut the deficit to single digits.
“We were doing okay until the start of that second half,” Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. “I thought they gained some momentum, and we were never able to get the momentum back.”
In addition to their swarming defense, Jackson and Ryne Smith keyed the Boilermakers’ stellar offensive second half. Jackson finished with 13 points, five rebounds and five assists. Smith scored all of his 15 points after intermission and made or assisted five straight field goals for Purdue during a second half run that opened a 15-point lead. The duo accounted for six of Purdue’s 10 made treys.
“There’s not too much you can really do about that but go back on the offensive end and try to put it in the hole,” sophomore Rodney Williams said, “and we really couldn’t do that in this game.”
Iverson and Williams provided little help for the Gophers as they both picked up two fouls in the first five minutes of the game. Neither played more than 19 minutes and Williams missed his only field goal attempt.
“Rodney he had a tough day today,” Tubby Smith said. “I think he was still back in Minnesota.”
After the game, Tubby Smith questioned his own in-game lineup decisions. Freshmen Austin Hollins and Chip Armelin entered for Iverson and Williams early and played well in the first half. Armelin scored seven points in his first eight minutes. The coach said he chose to go with experience in the second half even though the Gophers’ 2-3 zone was rendered ineffective.
Now the Gophers, whose four-game winning streak ended Saturday, must try to use this loss as a learning experience.
“A game like this, it’ll definitely get us a little more ready for the rest of the season and the tournament,” Williams said. “You’re not going to face too many teams that pressure the ball like Purdue does.”
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