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Minnesota fends off a talented Nebraska-Omaha group

Dec 20, 2013, 11:37 PM EST

Minnesota bench

On the surface, Minnesota leading Nebraska-Omaha — who is in just their second year of playing a schedule comprised of almost exclusively Division I competition — 83-77 with just minutes remaining in regulation may seem like a lackluster effort by the Golden Gophers. That’s far from the case.

Minnesota played well. Their potent offense ran up 90+ points in a 92-79 win, and they excelled in transition throughout the game. Deandre Mathieu poured in 27 points on 9-11 shooting. Their defense left much to be desired, but a tip of the hat must be given to Omaha.

Omaha isn’t eligible to win the Summit League championship as they are still in the midst of their transition to Division I, but they will no doubt be a factor in that league, along with Denver, North Dakota State, and IPFW.

It was clear this wouldn’t be a walk in the park for Minnesota from the beginning as Omaha had an offensive answer every time Minnesota looked like it may go on a run. In the opening half, they used the three-point shot to keep pace and knot the game at 44 by halftime, hitting ten triples.

To think that the Mavericks could duplicate their shooting performance in the second half would have been nearly impossible, and they didn’t. In fact, they didn’t hit one shot from beyond the arc in the second half. Despite that, they leaned on Devin Patterson and CJ Carter, who scored in a variety of ways.

Head coach Derrin Hansen is building something good in Omaha — no doubt about that. A team just doesn’t go into Iowa and lead the Hawkeyes with less than ten minutes remaining without being a talented bunch.

As for the Gophers, they have played well since consecutive losses in Maui against Syracuse and Arkansas, having won five straight games. Mathieu and Andre Hollins both had big nights, but it was the play of Malik Smith off the bench (19 points, 5-8 3PT) that should have Gopher fans encouraged. Minnesota already has one of the better back courts in the Big Ten, and if Smith — who transferred from Florida International to follow Rick Pitino Jr. — fills the role of instant offense off the bench, the Gophers become that much more dynamic.

Minnesota has a final tune-up against Texas A&M Corpus Christi next Saturday, prior to their Big Ten opener vs. Michigan — that’s when the fun begins.