MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Even after winding up with a win, No. 21 Minnesota realized it must do better at the beginning.
Blake Hoffarber scored 13 points to go over 1,000 for his career, Trevor Mbakwe added 13 points and 13 rebounds and the Gophers beat Akron 66-58 Wednesday night.
Steve McNees scored 12 for Akron, which led 32-27 at halftime and gave the bigger and stronger Gophers all they could handle for the first 30 minutes.
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“We can’t come out with these slow starts and with no energy. We have to get better, to be honest,” Mbakwe said. “In the Big Ten, if you come out like this, you’ll be down 10-0 before you know it.”
Coach Tubby Smith blamed the slow starts on the snowball effect caused by messing up inside.
“When you’re missing easy shots it’s kind of contagious. Everyone starts losing energy,” he said. “We missed just easy, chippy shots trying to do these one-hand things. Once we told them grab it with two hands, take it up strong, be patient, that was it.”
Ralph Sampson III converted a three-point play and Rodney Williams threw down a rim-rattling dunk during a 12-3 Gophers run that gave Minnesota (10-1) the lead for good in the second half.
Playing without point guard Al Nolen for the fifth consecutive game, the Gophers looked lost in the first half. Minnesota missed 15 of its first 19 shots and finished the half 10 for 36.
“That might have been the worst shooting we’ve had in a long time,” Smith said.
After Devoe Joseph hit a 3-pointer — his first field goal — to tie it at 34 early in the second half, the Gophers stalled again. An angry Smith called two timeouts within 20 seconds to try and get Minnesota going again.
Whatever he told his team, it eventually worked.
Williams finished with 12 points and had four dunks, including an alley-oop from Hoffarber that gave the Gophers an 11-point advantage with 5:45 to play.
Minnesota made more of an effort to get the ball inside and shot 62.5 percent in the second half.
“In a way, those dunks give us our energy too,” said Williams, who also had 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.
Perimeter defense also has been a problem for the Gophers, and the Zips took advantage early.
Coming off a 35-point loss to Temple on Sunday, Akron (4-4) hit five of their first 11 3-pointers and forced 10 turnovers in the first half. But as the game wore on, the Gophers’ size squashed any hopes for an upset.
“We have to get out and defend the 3 better,” Williams said. “Teams have been in games with us because of the 3-ball. We need to do a better job getting in people’s faces on those.”
Minnesota outrebounded Akron 48-36 and blocked eight shots. Mbakwe and Sampson also altered several shots and forced Akron to shoot mostly jumpers. The Zips finished 10 of 31 on 3-point tries.
Smith said he expects to have Nolen (foot) back for the Gophers next game, which isn’t until Dec. 23.
“We’re going to bust him pretty good the next few days,” Smith said. “He doesn’t know that, but we need to get his lungs and legs back in shape.”