MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Aggressive defense and the fast break go together in basketball, and Minnesota has both facets working well so far.
The more effort the Gophers pour into this now, the better chance they’ll have succeeding when it counts in March.
Rodney Williams had 12 points, eight rebounds and four steals, Austin Hollins scored 10 of his 13 points in the game’s first five minutes and Minnesota blew by Toledo 82-56 on Monday night.
The Gophers (2-0) were never threatened. Hollins hit two 3-pointers and swished all four of his shots in that defining opening stretch, and the Gophers took a 15-2 lead. Only once in the first half did Toledo score four straight points.
“We’ve got the pieces. We’ve got people that are running. We’re in great shape. We’ve got a lot of depth so people can come in and out to run the floor like we want to,” Hollins said.
Joe Coleman finished with 15 points and six rebounds despite eight turnovers, and Oto Osenieks pitched in eight points off the bench for the Gophers, who played so sharply and confidently in the first half their occasional sloppiness down the stretch didn’t matter. They shot nearly 50 percent, including 16 for 28 in the first half as they built a 48-22 advantage.
“We just try to get as many deflections and steals as we can and hopefully get out on the break,” Coleman said.
Rian Pearson led the Rockets (0-2) with 18 points, and freshman center Nathan Boothe added 13 points and seven rebounds. Toledo coach Tod Kowalczy said he thought his team “played scared” of the Gophers at the beginning.
“We gave them too much respect,” he said. “The second half is something we can build on.”
The Gophers were called for 16 fouls after halftime and lost some energy while the Rockets picked their game up after falling behind 64-32. Pearson started to find some space to get to the basket, and the Rockets took advantage of some too-casual passes by Minnesota.
But the Gophers were too good on defense, with Coleman and Hollins getting their arms in the passing lanes on the wings and Williams, Elliott Eliason and Trevor Mbakwe overwhelming the smaller Rockets underneath. Mbakwe played only 14 minutes, being gradually brought back in his recovery from reconstructive right knee surgery, but he had six points, seven rebounds, and two blocks.
Minnesota held a 51-27 rebounding edge.
“I’m not really worried about the offensive end, man. I’m doing my best to play with energy and rebound the ball and block some shots,” Mbakwe said.
Toledo went just 3 for 19 from 3-point range. The Rockets were second in the Mid-American Conference in 3-point shooting last season and made nearly 44 percent from behind the arc over the last 12 games.
Minnesota held American to 36 points on 9-for-38 shooting (23.7 percent) in the opener last week. Toledo finished at 31.1 percent from the field.
“That tells me our guys are buying in. If they keep … trusting in one another, believing in what we’re teaching them, then it’s real,” coach Tubby Smith said.
Minnesota is 43-1 in nonconference games at home in six seasons under Smith, losing only to Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge two years ago. The Gophers raised their record to 21-2 against MAC teams, last losing to Ball State in 1988.
The last time these teams played was 1989, an 85-70 win by Minnesota at Toledo. The Rockets beat the Gophers 83-75 here in 1987, early in Clem Haskins’ second season as coach at Minnesota.
After going from 4-28 in 2010-11 to 19-17 in 2011-12, the second-biggest turnaround in the nation, the Rockets, with all but one letter-winner back, were picked by media covering the conference to win the MAC’s West Division. The Rockets haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1980.
The Rockets lost their opener at Loyola Chicago and play again on the road Wednesday at Northern Iowa. Pearson, the only player who ranked in the MAC’s top 10 in points, rebounds and steals in 2011-12, finished 7 for 17 from the field but 3 for 8 from the foul line. Julius Brown, the MAC Freshman of the Year last season, had nine points on 3 for 13 shooting, plus seven assists and seven turnovers.
Toledo is 27-44 all-time against the Big Ten. The last win by the Rockets was on Dec. 30, 2002, an 81-76 decision over Michigan State.
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