By Paul Casey Gotham
ORLANDO, FL — For thirty-nine-plus minutes Thursday afternoon Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe filled the stat sheet with points and rebounds. It was the play he made not found in the box score that made the difference.
Mbakwe registered a double-double, and Rodney Williams had a team-high 18 points as the Golden Gophers defeated the DePaul Blue Demons 86-85 in the first round of the 2011 Old Spice Classic at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.
Saddled with four fouls and his team clinging to a one-point lead Mbakwe used guile to stop a late opportunity.
“It was a last minute decision,” Mbakwe said. “Maybe he thought I was going to try and block his shot. I was just in the right spot at the right time.”
With less than 20 remaining in the game, DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin took the ball on a handoff and looked to drive as the 6’8″ Mbakwe slid across the lane catching Melvin in the air and drawing the offensive foul.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to take the charge,” Mbakwe continued. “They had a good chance to win the game. It was a relief for us. It’s the way the game goes.”
In the first half, Mbakwe met Melvin at the rim and stopped the DePaul forward’s dunk attempt.
“We needed stops,” explained Minnesota head coach, Tubby Smith. “Trevor is an outstanding defender. We have only taken two or three charges all season, and he has taken all of them. He’s a heady player.”
Williams sealed the victory at the other end with a rebound and putback of a free throw attempt.
Ralph Sampson III helped the Gophers respond from a 12-point hole in the first half.
Sampson grabbed a rebound and finished at the rim.
Two possessions later, Sampson led Andre Hollins for a backdoor layup. On the next trip Williams, out of the corner, fed Sampson for a catch-and shoot jumper. Two trips later, Mbakwe grabbed an offensive rebound and found Sampson open in the lane for the easy bucket.
“I was very skeptical about playing him,” Smith said of the injured Sampson. “We needed Ralph’s maturity and experience. Even on a bad wheel he had four rebounds, four out of eight and two assists.”
Andre Ingram capped a 12-4 run with a pair of free throws as the Gophers took their first lead in the second half, 72-71. Chip Armelin hit Ingram in transition, and the 6’7″ forward went to the basket leaning into contact for the foul.
DePaul reclaimed the lead when Worrell Clahar hit a pair at the charity stripe.
Mbakwe followed with four of his own from the line, and Minnesota led 77-75.
The Gophers stretched the advantage to four when Hollins hit Williams who quickly redirected the ball to Mbakwe for a dunk.
DePaul took their largest at 38-26 when Brandon Young canned a three from the right free-throw extended.
Yound had a game-high 23. Melvin added 20 and Krys Faber chipped in 10.
Williams kept the Gophers close with a series of thunderous dunks. The junior hit seven of nine from the field.
Mbakwe finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Austin Hollins and Julian Welch had 11 apiece.