Men’s Basketball: Small team no match for Tollackson

Brian Regan

Late in the first half Wednesday night, Minnesota center Spencer Tollackson received a pass down low and with no defense in arms reach dunked the ball with authority. His scream and glare at the sparsely populated Welsh-Ryan Arena meant he was there to stay all night long.

“Spencer got us started the right way,” Golden Gophers’ coach Tubby Smith said. “He was attacking the basket and making his free throws.”

While Tollackson notched only one dunk, his throwdown was the focal point of NU’s continued struggles with opposing big men.

“He has a great presence out there,” forward Kevin Coble said. “And we didn’t execute our scouting report. We let him exploit us and were never able to make him uncomfortable.”

Tollackson finished with 19 points and didn’t miss a shot — from the floor or the free throw line. His performance came just four days after the Wildcats were burned by another imposing forward, Indiana’s D.J. White, who scored 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

“Well, one guy is a first round draft pick (White),” NU coach Bill Carmody said. “And (Tollackson) knew what he was doing and executed well.”

When the Cats clamped down on Tollackson or White, they became vulnerable along the wings, where long-range shooters Jamal Abu-Shamala and Blake Hoffarber preyed on the gaps in NU’s defense Wednesday.

Abu-Shamala and Hoffarber finished with a combined 31 points, hitting 8-of-13 3-pointers.

“We can’t get killed off the boards,” Carmody said. “Especially because (opposing) shooters get open looks because of strength inside.”

The Cats’ answer to Tollackson early was to foul him, but he stymied their strategy by hitting his foul shots.

Even when Tollackson wasn’t generating statistics, the rest of the Golden Gophers continued to dominate inside. Minnesota had almost as many offensive boards (13) as NU had total rebounds (17).

“We don’t have a 6-10 guy that can rebound,” NU guard Michael Thompson said. “We can’t give up so many offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities. They are just a lot bigger and a lot stronger.”

But in the end, it wasn’t an issue of size – neither White nor Tollackson is much taller than anyone on the Cats’ roster. It was about dealing with a center who can run the floor and dominate inside, which of late has proved to be NU’s kryptonite.

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