The Gophers went into the half against Missouri State ahead, 44-31. Joey King made his first 5 3-point attempts. They got ahead as much as 16 in the second half, but foul trouble and the consistent tendency to hoist 3s against zone defense allowed Missouri State to make some runs and close the gap. The Missouri State Bears got within 3 late in the 2nd, but Mason and King were able to make some big 3s and fend off the Bears.
Foul trouble became a problem. The Gophers had 5 players with 3 or more fouls. Joey King was being played with 3 fouls very early in the second half. That alone may tell you something about the level of confidence Pitino had in his team to get the job done. King fouled out with 18 seconds in the second half remaining and and a mere 3 point lead on the Bears. The two very late fouls on King were a bit of a scare as it seemed like it was a possibility the Bears could take them to overtime, but they didn't. Kevin Dorsey was fouled, and ultimately closed the game out with 2 clutch free throws that increased the lead from 3 to 5 with about 15 seconds to play.
It wasn't a pretty win. It was another game where the Gophers relied heavily on Joey King's offense. He is a difficult matchup, but most coaches would know that going into playing the Gophers you need to have someone that is in Joey King's face as soon as he gets off the bus. Pitino will have to get more creative on offense when facing these zone defenses. Hoisting 23 3-point attempts is not a key to victory for this Minnesota team, but an issue for finding better shots is that they may not have a player that is adept at penetrating and finding the open man. Again, Pitino may have to get creative with some cuts to the basket and playing Joey King at the high post with some good movement around him.
The looming tower:
The Gophers move to 3-1 overall. They face the winner of Mississippi State and Texas Tech, and with Tubby Smith coaching at Texas Tech that would surely be a thriller to be able to see Smith opposite Pitino. There are so many story lines to play up, with Smith succeeding Rick Pitino at Kentucky and winning a national championship, to Richard Pitino succeeding Tubby Smith and winning an NIT title. Tubby Smith was fired by Minnesota after a 20-win season and a win in the NCAA tournament, but some reasons behind his being let go may well have been that he wasn't able to keep the studs in Minnesota. Pitino has proven himself a quality recruiter and he has closed down the borders, so far. I believe Teague made a great hire in Pitino.
Whatever happens against Mississippi State you can bet that Coach Pitino will be watching the game very closely. If the Gophers do wind up playing Texas Tech, then a quick way to judge the coaches will be by the fight there players show for them on the court. These matchups are so important for teams, not only because of what the game means to the coaches in it, but it shows us what sort of loyalty the players show for their coaches.
Note: there is just one player leftover from the Tubby Smith era, Charles Buggs.