Cavaliers stun No. 15 Gophers on road
Minnesota rolled into Williams Arena on Monday night with a No. 15 ranking, its highest ever under coach Tubby Smith.
Mustapha Farrakhan and Virginia took care of that in a hurry.
Farrakhan scored a career-high 23 points and Mike Scott had 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead Virginia to an 87-79 victory over the Golden Gophers on Monday night.
Joe Harris scored 24 points and the Cavaliers (4-3) made 10 of 13 3-pointers to erase a 13-point first-half deficit and hand the Gophers (6-1) their first loss of the season.
''I think everybody thought we'd come in here and get blown out of the gym,'' Scott said. ''I think the only ones who thought we could win was our coaches. They kept stressing that this was a tough place to play, whether they're ranked or not, but they had confidence that we could win the game.''
Trevor Mbakwe had 18 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks for Minnesota. But the Gophers scored just two points during a seven-minute span of the second half and couldn't complete a furious rally in the final 5 minutes.
Mbakwe's putback cut Virginia's 14-point lead to 73-67 with 2 minutes to play, but Scott responded with a three-point play to put the game out of reach.
''That was probably as pathetic an effort defensively as we've had in a long time,'' Smith said. ''But a lot of credit has to go to Virginia.''
On a team with seven freshmen, it was the senior Farrakhan's steadying presence and cool shot-making that stabilized them during a rocky start.
Devoe Joseph had 16 points in his return from a six-game suspension and Blake Hoffarber added 19 points for the Gophers, who led 14-5 early and were in control during a dominant first half.
That's when coach Tony Bennett went to one of his three captains off the bench. The grandson of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Mustapha hit all four of his 3-pointers and scored 14 points in the first 20 minutes to keep the Cavaliers from getting blown out.
''He had his flame thrower out tonight,'' Scott said of Farrakhan, who was held scoreless in a loss to Wichita State the last time out. ''He was just shooting flames all over the place.''
Joseph, whose violation of team rules included troubles in the classroom, entered the game just over five minutes into it and made an immediate impact. The smooth combo guard hit 3 3-pointers and scored 10 points in the first half, helping to offset Farrakhan's impressive shooting.
With Mbakwe controlling the paint, Minnesota led by 10 at halftime.
But the Gophers were missing point guard Al Nolen because of a foot injury, and they looked lost without their defensive catalyst there to set the tone.
''It was probably one of our worst defensive games in a while,'' Hoffarber said. ''Hopefully this will be a wakeup call for us.''
The Cavaliers kept making open jumper after open jumper to stay in the game and withstand Minnesota's strong start. Will Sherrill's 3-pointer from the corner - Virginia's ninth 3 in 10 tries - capped a 12-1 run and gave Virginia a 49-48 lead with 13:23 to play.
Sherrill had to be helped off the court with a right leg injury nearly halfway through the second half, but Jontel Evans got a layup off a steal and Harris blew by Colton Iverson for an easy layup and a 57-52 lead.
Bennett said Sherrill will be taken for X-rays and was uncertain of how serious the injury was.
For a team that was blown out by Washington and also lost to Wichita State in the Maui Invitational, the Cavs grew more emboldened by the minute in the second half.
KT Harrell's mid-range jumper gave them a 61-54 lead with under 9 minutes to play and Farrakhan's fast-break layup capped the 17-2 burst that put the Cavs in control.
''It's a huge win,'' Harris said. ''We had a couple of good days of practice and the coaches kept stressing that this was a very tough place to play. We're real happy to get this play.''
And it was a deflating loss for the Gophers, who beat North Carolina and West Virginia last week en route to a surprising victory at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and could have continued their climb up the rankings with a win in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Now they enter the soft part of their nonconference schedule, with games against Cornell, St. Joseph's, Eastern Kentucky, Akron and South Dakota State before starting the Big Ten schedule against Wisconsin on Dec. 28.
''I don't pay attention (to the rankings),'' Smith said. ''But maybe our players do.''