Gophers Win Championship in Puerto Rico

Minnesota defeated West Virginia 74-70 to claim the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Championship on Sunday. The Gophers withstood an early barrage from Casey Mitchell and got a season high 17 points from Al Nolan to bury the Mountaineers. The win pushed Minnesota to a perfect 5-0 start.

West Virginia guard Casey Mitchell started the game against Minnesota how he finished his last game, hot. Mitchell hit four 3-pointers and scored 16 of the first 20 points for the Mountaineers, giving them a nine-point lead with 12 minutes left in the first half.

Minnesota fought back with three consecutive baskets cutting the lead to only three points. With their deficit still three with 7:26 left, the Gophers looked dumped the ball inside to their big men. Two free throws by tournament MVP Trevor Mbakwe and four points, highlighted by an emphatic fast break dunk by Colton Iverson, gave Minnesota the lead for the first time in the game, 25-22.

The Gophers lost the lead briefly with less than two minutes to play, but a layup by freshman Chip Armelin put Minnesota back on top. West Virginia missed a game tying free throw right before half, keeping Minnesota's 33-32 lead at the break.

Mbakwe led the Gophers with eighth points and five rebounds through the first 20 minutes. He finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Chip Armelin and Colton Iverson both tallied six points in the first half.

The Gophers took their biggest lead of the second half, when a 3-pointer by Blake Hoffarber made the score 50-42. The Mountaineers trailed until 7:48 mark when two go ahead free throws by Jonnie West put West Virginia up 60-58.

A three-point play by Colton Iverson gave Minnesota the lead, a lead they would hold until only two minutes remained in the game, when Casey Mitchell tied the game at 70-70 with two free throws.

Blake Hoffarber hit a clutch 3-pointer to break the tie, 73-70. Hoffarber ended the game with 12 points on 4-for-9 shooting from three.

West Virginia looked to tie the game but Chip Armelin grabbed a rebound on a missed shot and iced the game with a free throw, for a 74-70 final.

Quote to Note

"It was a real battle tonight. I thought the kids showed a lot of toughness and a lot of effort, and it was a total team effort. We got down by nine in the first half...We got the momentum back and I thought that was a big key to the game.

"Congratulate Blake and Trevor - they both played well. And Al Nolen really ran the team as well I've seen him do it...We know we beat a very good West Virginia team. We're really excited to have won the tournament." – Tubby Smith, following the Gophers' championship victory at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Worthy Performances

Senior guard Blake Hoffarber and junior forward Trevor Mbakwe were both named to the all-tournament team for their performances over the weekend. Mbakwe averaged 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in the three games. Hoffarber averaged 16 points, 3.6 rebounds and four assists for the tournament.

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