Another big second half led to another lopsided Minnesota victory as the Gophers ran past Utah Valley, 76-51, on Thursday at Williams Arena in improving to 3-0 for the season.
Like its first two victories, 18th-ranked Minnesota held a slim lead at the half and then exploded in the second half for the win. The Gophers were ahead 32-24 at halftime and scored 44 second half points while holding Utah Valley scoreless over the final 5:36 of the game. Minnesota has now outscored its opponents 150-78 in the second half of its three games this season.
Freshman Rodney Williams led the second half charge by scoring 13 of his game-high 17 points after halftime. Williams has now started his collegiate career by scoring in double figures in all three games. Al Nolen totaled 11 points, seven assists and a career-high six steals. He also did not have a turnover for the second straight game and has 21 assists and two turnovers for the season.
Turnovers were a huge factor in the game, as the Gophers had 15 steals in forcing Utah Valley into 26 turnovers. Minnesota, which had 31 turnovers over its first two games, committed just five turnovers in Thursday's victory. It marked the Gophers' fewest turnovers since Jan. 28, 2004, when they committed four against Indiana.
Utah Valley scored the game's first point, but Minnesota scored the next five and never trailed the rest of the game. However, the Wolverines hung tough throughout the first half as the Gophers never led by more than six points until the final two minutes of the half. Minnesota led 18-16 and went on a modest 10-4 run to take a 28-20 advantage. Damian Johnson scored nine of his 15 points in the first half for the Gophers and finished the night seven-for-10 from the floor.
The Gophers, who scored the first 16 points of the second half in their win over Stephen F. Austin on Monday, came out of halftime in similar fashion on Thursday by notching the first seven points to take a 39-24 lead.
Minnesota held a 43-30 lead with 14:21 left when the Wolverines hit their next five shots from the field and closed to within 48-41 with 11:05 remaining. However, it was the closest Utah Valley would get as Williams took over from that point. After one free throw by Paul Carter, Williams scored Minnesota's next eight points over a two-minute stretch to spark a 9-2 Gophers' run and put Minnesota ahead 57-43 with 8:13 remaining. Six of Williams' eight points during the spurt came on layups following Utah Valley turnovers as the Gophers outscored the Wolverines 30-2 in points off turnovers for the game.
Like the first half, Utah Valley wouldn't let Minnesota pull away, getting a three-pointer from Jordan Swarbrick, who led the Wolverines with 11 points, and another from Tyray Petty with 5:36 left to cut the lead to 63-51. It would be the last points that the Wolverines would score as the Gophers tallied the game's final 13 points. Petty finished with a solid all-around game for Utah Valley with eight points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Carter came off the bench for the first time this season and totaled a season-best 10 points. Minnesota also notched assists on 21 of its 27 field goals and grabbed 11 offensive rebounds as the Gophers attempted 63 field goals compared to 42 for Utah Valley.
It was the final of three straight home games for the Gophers, who take on 10th-ranked Butler on Thanksgiving Day in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. (Central time) on ESPN2.