Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 11/14/11
MINNEAPOLIS For the second game in a row, an undersized, outmatched opponent came into Williams Arena and stuck with the Minnesota men's basketball team for the better part of the game.And, for the second time in four days, the Gophers used a second-half surge to pull away, defeating South Dakota State on Monday by a 71-55 final.On Friday, Minnesota had a battle on its hands with visiting Bucknell in the season opener. The Bison held a 53-48 lead in the second half before the Gophers went on a late run to pull away. It was more of the same Monday, as the Jackrabbits led by five before Minnesota went on a 32-11 run to close out the game and improve to 2-0 on the season."I feel like it's been the same thing. We picked up the intensity and we played in the second half how we should have started off the game," said senior forward Trevor Mbakwe, who had a team-high 17 points. "We were the more aggressive team, and I think that kind of showed."Perhaps the Gophers' slow starts were due to the inexperience of the many new faces on the team. Bench players such as Oto Osenieks, Julian Welch, Andre Ingram and Joe Coleman are still learning Minnesota's offense. But by the second half of Monday's game, it appeared as if the newcomers were starting to settle in a bit.And the Gophers' second unit provided some offense Monday, unlike in Friday's season opener. Coleman had seven points, Chip Armelin scored nine, and Maverick Ahanmisi chipped in eight."Both units played really well," Mbakwe said. "Andre and Joe, those guys came in the game and really turned it on. They were key to this game, too, because when they came in, they were able to pick up the intensity and force turnovers. They did a really good job for us.""I thought their energy level really got us going and their aggressiveness helped us out a lot," said Gophers coach Tubby Smith of his team's reserves. "When those guys come in, you want them to give you everything they have. Those guys are probably more physical than most of the guys on the starting group. That was a real plus for us."Before the Gophers settled down in the second half, the first-half numbers were ugly. Minnesota allowed the smaller Jackrabbits to grab seven offensive rebounds as the Gophers were outrebounded 23-13 before halftime. Minnesota also shot just 3-for-8 from the free-throw line in the first half.South Dakota State frustrated Minnesota's big men in the first half, not allowing many easy baskets down low. As a result, Mbakwe scored just four points before halftime, while Ralph Sampson III had six points, including two outside jumpers."They were just crashing everywhere," Mbakwe said of the Jackrabbits' rebounding. "We just didn't do a good job of boxing out in the first half. Coach really challenged it at halftime. We pride ourselves on rebounding. There's no way we should have gotten outrebounded like that in the first half."The sluggish play out of the gate by Minnesota translated into a narrow two-point Gophers edge at halftime eerily similar to their two-point lead against Bucknell in the season opener. But with Smith's five-man substitutions giving his starters a break, the Gophers were able to outlast South Dakota State down the stretch."Coach plays a deep team, and that's what we're going to need to kind of wear teams out," Mbakwe said. "I think that's what we've been doing the last few games. Our depth has kind of taken over at the end.""We feel like we can have a deep bench. The way you utilize it is you have to play people," Smith said.So far, the Gophers have been able to overcome a pair of unimpressive first halves against the likes of Bucknell and South Dakota State. But when Minnesota enters Big Ten play, second-half surges will likely be tougher to come by.Like he did Monday, however, Mbakwe will likely play into the Gophers' future second-half success. The senior had 13 of his 17 points and three of his four blocks after halftime. Against Bucknell, it was also Mbakwe who took over late in the game to put things on ice."I think we've given him rest. I think that helps," Smith said of Mbakwe. "And I think he's more patient. I think he's focused, now. He's not playing to the crowd. I think he's just more business-like now."
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