Playing their seventh straight road game, they were done in by a lack of depth. This was the second of six games for Central Michigan over a 13-day span.
The Gophers host one more nonconference opponent, North Dakota State on Dec. 22, before beginning the 18-game gauntlet that is the Big Ten season. Six teams are currently ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, and without Trevor Mbakwe's muscle around the basket, Minnesota will need plenty of production from a deep but inexperienced group of perimeter players.
Welch, the junior college transfer, will be relied on heavily. This was his eighth straight game scoring 11 points or more.
Austin McBroom went 5 for 5 from 3-point range for 16 points and Derek Jackson added 15 points for the Chippewas, whose active half-court defense kept them in the game early. They didn't let power forward Rodney Williams get the ball in the post much at all — his only points before halftime came on a fast-break dunk — while flustering the Gophers into 10 first-half turnovers.
After falling behind 11-6, though, Minnesota tightened up the defense and held Central Michigan to two field goals — a layup by Zeigler and a 3-pointer by McBroom — over the next 13 minutes.
Welch had a four-point play and a three-point play during the spurt, freshman shooting guard Joe Coleman got involved in the offense and Ralph Sampson III scrapped for some awkward but successful short shots in the paint. He flipped the ball over the rim in traffic for a 32-17 lead with 1:44 left before the break.
Defending the 3-pointer is going to be even more critical for the Gophers during conference play without Mbakwe's rebounding prowess, and their 37.6 percent allowed mark entering the game ranked next to last in the Big Ten. McBroom, a mobile 6-foot freshman who has hit a 3-pointer in every game this season, made them pay for some perimeter lapses, even swishing a few attempts with a hand right in his face.
But making their own shots behind the arc will be just as important, and the Gophers finished 8 for 17 from 3-point range — against a Central Michigan team that entered the game ranked 11th in all of Division I in field goal percentage defense. The only game they've shot better from behind the arc was against Indiana State last month, when they went 8 for 15.
The Gophers led by double digits the entire second half. The 6-foot Jackson leaped above the rim for an alley-oop that made even the Minnesota students gasp, cutting the lead to 55-37. But Chip Armelin followed with a pair of free throws and a floating jumper from the paint to give the Gophers their biggest lead at 21 points.
Freshman point guard Andre Hollins, who wore a black brace on the sprained right ankle that kept him out of the last game, returned to the Gophers but was replaced in the starting lineup by Maverick Ahanmisi, who hustled for four first-half rebounds and played a steady game and finished with 10 points. Williams had only five points, but he grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots to go with five of Minnesota's 24 assists.
The Chippewas didn't get a single point from one of their reserves. Their starters have accounted for more than 80 percent of their scoring this season.
Minnesota has beaten Central Michigan all three times they've played in the last eight seasons in this confusing-color-scheme series. The Chippewas, who wear a similar version of Minnesota's maroon and gold, are 3-8 against Big Ten teams in their history.