Minneapolis -- Head coach Tubby Smith's 18th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers opened the 2009-10 season with a flourish, forcing Tennessee Tech into 27 turnovers and running to an 87-50 victory before a crowd of 12,513 at Williams Arena.
Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook paced Minnesota with 22 points, making 9-of-13 field goals, including 4-of-7 from three-point range, while freshman forward Rodney Williams was the only other Gopher to reach double-figures with 14 points. Senior forward Damian Johnson, junior forward Paul Carter, and sophomore center Ralph Sampson III each added nine points for the winners.
Minnesota (1-0) used its athleticism to record 15 steals and 15 blocked shots in the game, and the Gophers outscored the Golden Eagles 44-10 in the paint, 28-12 off of turnovers, and 14-4 on fast breaks. Johnson finished with a career-high six steals to go along with five blocks, while junior guard Al Nolen scored seven points, dished out a game-high seven assists, grabbed four rebounds, and had three steals.
For the game, the Gophers made 34-of-63 (.540) field goal attempts, including 9-of-25 (.360) three-pointers. After making just 2-of-14 (.143) treys in the opening 20 minutes, the Gophers knocked down 7-of-11 (.636) from long-range in the second half, quickly stretching their 37-22 halftime lead.
Minnesota held a 39-35 lead on the boards, with Sampson pulling down a game-high nine caroms, and sophomore center Colton Iverson adding seven rebounds to go with five points and four blocked shots.
Nine of the 10 players who appeared in the game for Minnesota were credited with an assist, as the team finished with 25 in the win. Last season, Minnesota's season-best total for assists was the 24 it dished out in wins against South Dakota State (12/10/08) and High Point (12/28/08). The Gophers struggled at the free throw line, though, making just 10-of-20 attempts, and turned the ball over 16 times.
Williams, a highly-touted recruit out of Robbinsdale Cooper HS, finished with a couple crowd-pleasing dunks to fire up the Maroon and Gold faithful. He made 5-of-8 field goals, including 1-of-2 from beyond the arc, and added two rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a pair of blocks in an impressive collegiate debut.
Tennessee Tech (0-1) was led by 10 points from Kevin Murphy, while Elijah Cunningham-Muhammad and Frank Davis each tallied nine points. The Golden Eagles are coached by Mike Sutton, who served as one of Tubby Smith's assistant coaches at Tulsa, Georgia, and Kentucky before departing to take the TTU job eight years ago. Minnesota's defense limited the Golden Eagles to just 15-of-53 (.283) field goals, including 5-of-15 (.333) three-pointers, in the game.
The game was the 600th of head coach Tubby Smith's career, as he improved his all-time record to 430-170 (.717). Smith remains undefeated in season-openers at Minnesota, while improving to 18-0 in regular season non-conference games at The Barn. Smith's Gophers are also 34-2 during his tenure at Minnesota when the team holds a halftime lead.
Minnesota will now prepare for Stephen F. Austin, which will make an appearance at The Barn on Monday night (Nov. 16). The game is set to tip off at 7:00 p.m., and can be viewed on www.bigtennetwork.com for a fee of $2.99. The contest will also be broadcast on the Gopher Radio Network, and flagship station WCCO 830 AM, with Mike Grimm calling the play-by-play, and former Gopher standout Spencer Tollackson adding analysis.