Reserves turning into scorers

The Gophers have had a number of reserves score in double figures the last few games, making a case for more playing time despite a couple of losses.

As Minnesota continues to wrestle with its identity, it's beginning to identify who its go-to players will be down the stretch. And at least some of them might be on the bench.

Even though the Gophers were manhandled by Michigan State last week, freshman reserve guard Devoe Joseph tied a career high with 11 points. At Ohio State on Feb. 4, the Gophers lost — again — but reserve Blake Hoffarber stepped up to score 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting from beyond the 3-point line.

Likewise, Paul Carter wasn't a starter against Indiana on Tuesday, but it didn't matter.

He scored a career-high 22 points, giving more credit to Tubby Smith's platoon system. More importantly, Minnesota continues to show its potential to outplay teams with sheer numbers.

With more and more of their bench players getting involved, the Gophers have a real shot to make noise in the postseason, assuming the team's starters step up, too. The team's top two scorers this year, Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson, produced four points combined against Indiana.

MINNESOTA 62, INDIANA 54: The Gophers are unranked for the first time in seven weeks after losing two road games last week at Ohio State and Michigan State. But they bounced back against Indiana on Tuesday, forcing 26 turnovers with a pressure defense that accounted for 14 steals, a season high for the Gophers.

Indiana made a game of it in the second half. Matt Roth hit a 3-pointer to put Indiana ahead 34-33, the first lead of the game for the Hoosiers. But Paul Carter, who scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half, scored on three of team's next four possessions as Minnesota regained control of the game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just need to ride it out and not get down on ourselves. We're kind of in a slump right now. We just have to focus on getting back to where we were. We need to go on a nice run to end the season to get us into the (NCAA) tournament." — Junior Damian Johnson, on the team's recent skid

NOTES

  • Value City Arena remains one of the most difficult road venues for the Gophers to find victories. Minnesota has won just two of the last 11 meetings on Ohio State's home floor.

  • Minnesota is 23-5 when point guard Al Nolen has one turnover or less, including Tuesday's victory over Indiana.

  • Blake Hoffarber finally broke out of his shooting slump against the Buckeyes on Feb. 7. Hoffarber was 7 of 37 on 3-pointers in his previous 10 games before going 6 of 10 against the Buckeyes. If Hoffarber can stay hot outside, he can provide the spark off the bench the Gophers enjoyed through the nonconference portion of the schedule.

  • G/F Travis Busch, an energetic reserve for the Gophers, didn't play Tuesday against Indiana because of an illness he picked up on the team's weekend road trip. He wasn't alone. At least three other Gophers caught the same bug and were limited in practice this week, but Busch was the only player to miss a game.

  • F Paul Carter's 22 points were the highlight of the Indiana game, but it was his intangibles that helped the Gophers pick up their intensity on defense. He hit the court for loose balls, blocked shots off the backboard and went strong to the rim every time. He might have just earned himself a spot as a starter.

  • PG Devoe Joseph has been a key player for the Gophers lately. Starting point guard Al Nolen has had his share of sophomore struggles. But Joseph, who scored nine points against Indiana, is stepping up. His four turnovers against the Hoosiers were a sign of a young point guard that sometimes rushes with the ball, not of a careless player.

    IN FOCUS: Penn State is still inconsistent, but has three legitimate scorers in Talor Battle, Jamelle Cornley and Stanley Pringle. If two or all three get hot, they could make life miserable for the defensive-minded Gophers.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — G Lawrence Westbrook, G Al Nolen, F Damian Johnson, F Ralph Sampson III, C Colton Iverson. Key Subs — G Blake Hoffarber, F Paul Carter, F Jamal Abu-Shamala, G/F Travis Busch, G Devoe Joseph, G Devron Bostick.

    GAME REVIEW:
    Michigan State 76, Minnesota 47
    Ohio State 64, Minnesota 58
    Minnesota 62, Indiana 54

    GAME PREVIEW:
    at Penn State, Saturday, Feb. 14
    at Michigan, Thursday, Feb. 19
    vs. Northwestern, Sunday, Feb. 22


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