Mon Nov 28 09:53am EST
As if the ice bag on his knee, the towel around his head and the tears streaming down his cheek weren't sufficient clues Trevor Mbakwe feared his season may be over, the Minnesota forward provided one more before Sunday night's loss to Dayton was even over.
Tweeted Mbakwe from the locker room: "Lord please get me through this."
Sure enough, an MRI taken on Monday confirmed Minnesota's worst fears: Mbakwe will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. The Gophers' leading scorer and rebounder suffered the injury going up for a rebound early in the second half.
"He had a knee surgery before and for it to happen a second time, you hurt for him, but you know he's a guy that has the will power and has been through it before and can recover again," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said in a statement released by the school. "We are certainly going to miss him. He's having a great year. He's our leader. He's been a big emotional leader for us. Our players look up to Trevor, not just because of his talent, but because of his work ethic, and the type of person he's been."
If Minnesota (6-1) was an NCAA tournament contender before Mbakwe's injury, it's tough to envision the Gophers even coming close to achieving that goal now. Not only is Mbakwe averaging 14.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, the 6-foot-8 senior has emerged as the emotional leader for a Gophers team that had been undefeated prior to Sunday night.
Whereas Minnesota had a wealth of quality big men at this time last season, the options now have dwindled considerably. Six-foot-11 Colton Iverson left for Colorado State and 6-foot-10 Mo Walker suffered a knee injury last December and isn't close to returning, leaving only senior center Ralph Sampson III and 7-foot redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason in the frontcourt.
The two players whose scoring and rebounding must increase for Minnesota to even be competitive against the better teams on its schedule are Sampson and ultra-athletic 6-foot-7 wing Rodney Williams. A sprained ankle has contributed to Sampson averaging just 5.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game this season, while Williams continues to show no signs of a long-awaited breakout season, averaging just 7.7 points per game.
If the second half against Dayton in the Old Spice Classic title game is any indication, Minnesota could be in for a long year without Mbakwe. Granted the shock of seeing their best player go down couldn't have helped, but the Gophers let a close game slip away in a hurry and lost 86-70.