MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Trevor Mbakwe had 16 points and 12 rebounds and Ralph Sampson III matched his career high with seven blocked shots to help Minnesota beat Iowa 69-59 on Sunday night.
Sampson scored 11 points with six rebounds and four assists for the Gophers (14-4, 3-3 Big Ten), who survived some lapses and avoided a costly defeat at home against one of the conference’s few struggling teams. Al Nolen had 13 points and eight rebounds, including two critical 3-pointers in the second half and a 7-for-8 performance at the free-throw line.
Melsahn Basabe led the Hawkeyes (7-10, 0-5) with 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Eric May added 16 points. Matt Gatens finished with 13 points, including a 3-pointer at the 2-minute mark that brought Iowa within 62-55, but the junior guard was 5 for 21 from the field — 3 for 10 from behind the arc.
With sharp-shooting senior Blake Hoffarber having an off night — he was 2 for 10 from the floor and 0 for 4 from 3-point range for a total of nine points — Nolen came up with the big baskets. Rodney Williams had three dunks in the first half and grabbed six rebounds for Minnesota, now 22-0 in Sampson’s career when the lanky, long-armed son of the former NBA standout blocks three or more shots.
Mbakwe again came off the bench for Minnesota, joining the starters barely three minutes after the tip, but the Gophers again failed to find much of a rhythm or show much a plan in their half-court offense.
Whether it’s combinations of players that don’t quite mesh, not enough guys who can create their own shots when the defense is tight or strategy that needs an update, the Gophers have struggled to control the game when they have the ball. They have enough athleticism with Williams, muscle with Mbakwe and overall defensive ability to make up for it against a developing team like Iowa.
The slams by Williams, most notably an acrobatic fast-break alley-oop he caught off balance behind the rim when Hoffarber’s pass over the Hawkeyes defender went high and right, kept the crowd in it and served as a major source of first-half production.
Minnesota went 27 for 37 from the free-throw line, including 10 for 14 in the first half while Iowa was just 1 for 2. Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery didn’t feel like enough whistles were going his team’s way. He got the rare technical foul in the middle of a Minnesota free throw, giving Hoffarber a pair of shots in between Nolen’s two free throws.
The Hawkeyes, outscored 13-0 over a 5-minute stretch late in the first half, scored nine straight points out of the break, the last when Basabe’s spin-move layup drew a foul and a “Yeah!” cheer from McCaffery to set up a three-point play and cut Minnesota’s lead to 30-28. The Hawkeyes went up 40-37, their biggest lead, on another three-point play by Basabe.
Nolen, just as he did in Thursday’s win over No. 8 Purdue, then knocked down a crucial 3-pointer from the wing to tie it, and freshman Austin Hollins had the next five points to spark an 18-4 run the Gophers used to pull ahead.
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