MINNEAPOLIS - There's still plenty of work to do for head coach Tubby Smith's men's basketball team, as it prepares for Friday's season-opener versus Bucknell.
That was evident Monday night at Williams Arena, as the Golden Gophers were forced to rally from a 38-33 halftime deficit in their 72-60 exhibition win versus Augustana College.
The Vikings, an NCAA Division II member and preseason favorites in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, played an exceptional first half to put a scare in the Gophers. Led by 5-foot-9 senior guard Drae Murray, a transfer from Sam Houston State, the Vikings went on a 15-5 run to take a 21-15 lead about midway through the first half and then managed to hold the lead all the way to the break.
Murray made 7-of-10 first-half field goals, including 5-of-6 from three-point range, to pace all scorers with 19 points in the opening half. Senior guard Cody Schilling, a native of Ellsworth, Minn., added nine points at the break for the Vikings.
Augustana made 15-of-33 (.455) field goals, seven from beyond the arc, and also held a 17-16 edge in rebounding against the taller Gophers to build its five-point first-half lead.
But Minnesota opened the second half with much more intensity, using a 15-2 run at the outset to retake a 48-40 lead in the first four minutes, and it wouldn't relinquish the advantage the rest of the night.
Senior forward Trevor Mbakwe once again showed why he's a preseason All-America and All-Big Ten selection and a member of the John R. Wooden Award watch list. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound Mbakwe, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds in last week's exhibition win versus Bemidji State, dominated the second half to help the Gophers take control of the game.
After scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds in the first half, Mbakwe's dominant second half consisted of 16 points, eight boards, five blocked shots, and three assists. He finished the night to a rousing applause after leaving the game with 22 points, 13 rebounds, six blocked shots, and four assists in the victory, leading the Golden Gophers in all four of those stat categories.
Mbakwe combined to make 13-of-15 (.867) field goals and 13-of-14 (.929) free throws in Minnesota's two exhibition victories.
Junior forward Rodney Williams was the only other Minnesota player in double figures, as he tallied 10 points to go with four rebounds. Sophomore guard Austin Hollins added eight points, while junior guard Julian Welch and sophomore guard Maverick Ahanmisi each chipped in with seven points. Welch was making his first appearance in a Gophers uniform after missing the first exhibition with an ankle injury.
For the game, Minnesota made 21-of-45 (.467) field goals, including 5-of-17 (.294) three-pointers, and 25-of-38 (.658) free throws. Despite a noticeable height advantage, the Gophers held just a slim 44-41 edge in rebounding, and the Gophers turned the ball over 17 times, providing more for Coach Smith and his staff to focus on before Friday's season-opener.
Augustana was led by Murray's 22 points, but he was 0-for-4 from the field in the second half. Schilling finished with 16 points and led the Vikings with eight rebounds. In the second half, Augustana was limited to 7-of-35 (.200) field goals, including just 1-of-9 (.111) treys, and they finished at 22-for-68 (.324) overall and 8-for-26 (.308) from three-point range.
Minnesota officially opens its 2011-12 season when it plays host to Bucknell of the Patriot League on Friday evening at Williams Arena. The tip is set for 7:00 p.m., and it can be heard live on the Gopher Radio Network. The game will also be streamed live on BTN.com.