MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Playing without NCAA sanctions for the first
time since Dan Monson took over as coach in 1999, Minnesota isn't
counting on winning many pretty games.
With nine freshmen on the roster and only five returning
lettermen from a team that went 12-18 last season, they'll need
energy to trump their inexperience.
Vincent Grier had 16 of his 19 points in the second half,
including a pair of steals he turned into fastbreak dunks that
ignited Minnesota in a 77-63 victory over Central Michigan on
For the first time in a while, the Gophers seem to be actually
following through on the annual pledge to play better defense.
"That's definitely how we're going to win," Grier said.
"That's going to be our identity."
Jeff Hagen scored a career-best 21 points for the Gophers (5-3),
who used an 18-0 run in the middle of the second half to take
control. Grier had eight points during that run, in which the
Chippewas went nearly 5½ minutes without scoring.
Central Michigan (4-3), which made 13 3-pointers in an 88-77 win
over East Tennessee State on Tuesday, went 9-for-22 behind the arc
and led 53-47 with 10:19 left on a shotclock-beating 3-pointer by
leading scorer Kevin Nelson -- who had 17 points.
The Chippewas have lost 16 straight road games, and they
suddenly became shaky down the stretch as the Williams Arena crowd
of 9,320 grew loud and the Gophers cranked up their perimeter
defense. Twice in a span of 90 seconds, Grier stole the ball in the
backcourt and cruised the other way for an emphatic dunk.
Point guard Aaron Robinson deserved credit for his aggressive
pressure, too, and Monson made note of Hagen's defensive help in
"They did this together," said Monson, whose team started a
stretch of eight straight home games. The Gophers don't play on the
road until Jan. 15.
Robert Sevalia added 14 points for Central Michigan, which was
outrebounded 38-25 and went 8-for-15 from the free-throw line.
"I guess we got a little tight," Sevalia said. "Everybody was
standing around on offense. We had a couple of crucial turnovers
and just gave them a rally."
Chippewas coach Jay Smith was impressed by the way Minnesota
shook off Nelson's big shot and came back.
"I thought his kids really came out and stalked us during that
period," Smith said. "That says a lot about their team."
Indeed, though the Gophers were again unable to start strong,
they found a way to overcome that early sluggishness. In a 57-48
victory over Nebraska on Wednesday, Minnesota trailed 19-5 after 13
minutes before rallying on the road.
"The positive that goes with that negative is that I think we
showed our character again," Monson said. "We stayed within our
principles and didn't panic. ... Every win is a good win for this
basketball team right now."
Hagen went 11-for-13 at the foul line, and the Gophers were
31-for-43. Freshman guard Rico Tucker, with 12 points and three
steals, provided a valuable spark.
Loose balls were prevalent in a ragged first half, and a
consistently intense Chippewa defense kept the Gophers from finding
many openings -- many times settling for contested outside shots.
Three consecutive 3-pointers put Central Michigan ahead 17-11
midway through, but Minnesota -- which missed all 10 of its 3-point
attempts -- crept back at the free-throw line.
The Chippewas could've taken a larger lead into the locker room,
but four missed foul shots in five attempts during the final 41
seconds left the score at 32-30.
This was the first time these schools met for a men's basketball
game. Central Michigan is 2-6 against Big Ten opponents under
Smith, the last win coming at Michigan in Dec. 2002.