Mbakwe Powers Minnesota Past South Dakota State, 71-55

Go Gophers! Rodney Williams looks to pass against South Dakota State.
Go Gophers!
Rodney Williams looks to pass against South Dakota State.
Go Gophers!

Nov. 14, 2011

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Trevor Mbakwe wasn't taking kindly to the wrap on his right wrist.

The Minnesota Gophers' senior forward, who said he suffered a sprained thumb and wrist in practice Sunday, ditched his brace for the second half and ultimately scored 13 of his team-high 17 points in the final 20 minutes as Minnesota (2-0) cruised past the South Dakota State Jackrabbits 71-55 Monday night at Williams Arena.

Mbakwe added 10 rebounds for his 21st career double-double and second in as many games this season. He also chipped in four blocks and a pair of steals despite the nagging injury.

"I just have to keep treating it and just hope and pray it gets better," Mbakwe said. "It took me a little bit, but after awhile the adrenaline kicked in and helped it out for the game."

Gophers coach Tubby Smith didn't even realize Mbakwe removed the brace, but said his wrist had little to do with the way he came out in the second half.

"I think he's focused now, he's not playing to the crowd like he had a tendency to," Smith said. "He's more businesslike now and I think he's more serious-minded and understands what he's capable of doing. He knows when to pick his opportunities."

Jackrabbits junior Nate Wolters posted game highs with 20 points and six assists for South Dakota State (1-1), which lost for the 15th time in as many tries against Minnesota. Freshman Teavaunn Prince added 13 for the Jackrabbits and Chad White added 11, but South Dakota State was done in by 18 turnovers. Prince and Tony Fiegen both turned the ball over four times apiece, while Wolters added three giveaways.

The Gophers wore down their Summit League foes, using a decisive 18-1 run over a six-minute stretch to erase a five-point deficit and put the game away. Sophomore guard Maverick Ahanmisi's 3-pointer and two free throws served as bookends to the decisive stretch. Ahanmisi also handed out three assists in the second half while picking up the slack for starter Andre Hollins who played only 11 minutes due to foul trouble.

As was the plan, Smith used his entire bench, doling out double-digit minutes to nine players as Minnesota out-manned a Jackrabbits squad featuring just three upperclassmen. South Dakota State shot just 8-for-24 in the second half and scored only 11 points in the game's final 15 minutes. Smith credited Ahanmisi for elevating his squad's energy.

"I felt like I needed to step up," Ahanmisi said. "I just had to get in there, pick up the intensity and keep it up. I try to pride myself in that and just help the whole team to pick up the intensity."

While the second half was lopsided in Minnesota's favor, the much larger Big Ten squad was still out-rebounded 37-33 in the game. The Jackrabbits grabbed seven first-half offensive rebounds to the Gophers' none, but it wasn't enough to overcome their mistakes, namely 11 first-half turnovers.

"The second half was not the problem," South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said. "It was the first half. If you're going to be a championship team, which we want to be, you can't turn over the ball like we did. That is usually a strength of ours and I don't know why it wasn't tonight."

Minnesota hit 3 3-point attempts in the first half and shot 6-for-14 beyond the arc in the contest, which was a marked improvement over its 3-for-15 showing in Friday's season-opening victory over Bucknell. The Gophers hit 57.4 percent from the floor, while South Dakota State shot 36.5 percent.