For the second straight game, tight defense and a big second half keyed Minnesota to victory as the Gophers posted an 82-42 win over Stephen F. Austin on Monday at Williams Arena.
Minnesota trailed early and committed 11 first-half turnovers, but used a stifling defense to close the first half with a 12-2 run and then scored the first 16 points of the second half to break the game open. In all, the Gophers' outscored the Lumberjacks 34-4 over a stretch of 14:39, spanning the final nine minutes of the first half and first 5:39 of the second half.
The Gophers outscored the Lumberjacks 56-23 in the second half, which was reminiscent of Friday's season-opening win over Tennessee Tech. In the opener, the Gophers were also hampered by a sloppy first half, but exploded for 50 second-half points, and shut down the Golden Eagles defensively for an 87-50 victory.
Stephen F. Austin, which was playing its season-opener, took an early 10-5 lead over the first 5:28 of the game before Minnesota battled back to tie the game at 12-12.
The Lumberjacks got a basket from Orren Tims to take a 16-15 lead with nine minutes left in the first half when Minnesota turned up the defensive pressure, and Stephen F. Austin didn't score again until a three-pointer by Eddie Williams with 25 seconds left before halftime. During the Lumberjacks' scoring drought, Minnesota scored nine straight points and took a 24-16 lead. The Gophers held Stephen F. Austin to just 28.0 percent (7-for-25) shooting in the first half while forcing nine turnovers.
Minnesota came out on fire in the second half, draining six of its first seven shots during its 16-point outburst. Rodney Williams, who started the second half in place of Paul Carter, opened the half with an alley-oop dunk off a pass from Damian Johnson. Lawrence Westbrook followed with a three-pointer and then stole the inbounds pass following a Stephen F. Austin timeout and finished with a layup. Two free throws by Williams, a jumper by Johnson and another three-pointer by Westbrook were followed by another dunk from Williams to put Minnesota ahead, 42-19. Meanwhile, the Lumberjacks started the second half with five turnovers and two missed shots in their first seven possessions.
Tims ended Minnesota's run with a basket at the other end, but the Gophers responded with consecutive three-pointers by Blake Hoffarber and Devoe Joseph for a 48-21 advantage with 14:45 remaining, capping a 22-2 burst to open the half.
Stephen F. Austin's Walt Harris scored all seven of his points consecutively to pull the Lumberjacks within 48-28, but they came no closer. Leading 53-31 with 11:51 remaining, Minnesota went on a 21-4 run to push the lead to 74-35. The Gophers' biggest lead was 42 points at 82-40 before a late Stephen F. Austin basket in the closing seconds.
Joseph was three-for-three from three-point range to finish with 15 points and Westbrook also tallied 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting to lead a balanced Gophers' scoresheet. Williams had 14 points for the second straight game, while Johnson totaled 11 points to give Minnesota four players in double figures. Ralph Sampson III finished with eight points and 11 rebounds. Al Nolen didn't score, but totaled seven assists and didn't turn the ball over.
Eddie Williams led Stephen F. Austin with 12 points, as the Lumberjacks shot just 30.6 percent (15-for-49) from the field and 3-for-14 from three-point range. Minnesota shot 54.7 percent (29-for-53) from the field and 57.9 percent (11-for-19) on three-pointers. The Gophers were 19-for-31 from floor in the second half (61.3 percent).
Minnesota had eight blocked shots and didn't have any shots blocked by the Lumberjacks as the Gophers have 23 blocked shots for the season compared to zero for their opponents.
The Gophers return to Williams Arena on Thursday when they play host to Utah Valley at 7 p.m. The game will be televised live by the Big Ten Network.