Coach Tubby Smith said one of his Gophers’ most vital strengths is their depth.
On Wednesday night, he didn't need it. The Gophers' starting five scored all of their points in an 84-67 win at No. 12 Illinois.
Joe Coleman’s career-high 29 points carried the No. 8 Gophers’ consistent second-half barrage on the Illini. Minnesota outscored Illinois 50-37 in the final 20 minutes.
“[Coleman] was even knocking down threes,” Smith told Big Ten Network after the game. “That’s not part of his game. We’re used to saying, ‘no, no, no.’”
Coleman was 2-for-3 from long range and 10-for-16 overall.
Coleman, Trevor Mbakwe and Andre Hollins combined to score 70 of Minnesota’s 84 points. The Gophers’ bench was held scoreless for the first time this season.
The Gophers dominated with their fast-paced offense and aggressive defense to beat their third ranked opponent of the season.
Mbakwe notched his fourth double-double of the season as he pushed around the Illini frontcourt for 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Minnesota started slowly, as it has many times this season, to make the game competitive for the first half. The Gophers made one of their first six shots and didn't capture a substantial lead until 28-21 with four minutes left in the half.
Minnesota had 15 turnovers to Illinois’ seven, but it benefited from poor shooting by the Illini.
Illinois guard Brandon Paul, the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten, left the game in the first half with a bloody nose. The senior guard returned in a new jersey but only added to his team's inaccuracy, shooting 6-for-17 in the game.
Smith’s staunch defense held the Illini, the nation’s second-ranked three-point shooting team, to 3-for-24 shooting from beyond the arc. Even the open shots wouldn’t fall for Illinois.
The Gophers, on the other hand, are getting hot at the right time. They’re shooting 18-for-36 (50 percent) from deep in their first three Big Ten games, led by Austin Hollins' 9-for-15 shooting from long range.
Minnesota plays at No. 5 Indiana on Saturday.