Minnesota looks to regroup at home vs. Saint Louis

·3 min read

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will continue their team-building project when they host the Saint Louis Billikens on Sunday in Minneapolis.

The Gophers (6-1, 0-1 Big Ten) won their first six games while getting big contributions from freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. and transfers Both Gach, Liam Robbins and Brandon Johnson.

But all four struggled when Minnesota lost its Big Ten opener 92-65 at No. 13 Illinois on Tuesday. Those newcomers missed 26 of 32 shots from the floor.

They will be looking to regroup against the Billikens (6-0, 0-0 Atlantic 10), who are coming off of an 80-69 victory over North Carolina State.

"The hard part is you never know what you're going to get from the newcomers," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. "Especially when you don't have a summer with them. You're bringing in six new guys and those transfers, all three were going to (be) impact guys. You just don't know."

Minnesota allowed 7-foot, 285-pound Illini center Kofi Cockburn to score 33 points and grab 13 rebounds. Robbins, a transfer from Drake, lasted just 16 minutes before fouling out.

"He's never gone against a guy like Kofi in his life," Pitino said. "He's transferring up from the Missouri Valley. I don't think they have guys his size at that level."

Robbins should fare better against 6-foot-7, 240-pound Saint Louis center Hasahn French, who averages 8.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

But the Billikens will bring a veteran team into Williams Arena. French and Jordan Goodwin (15.2 points, 11 rebounds per game) are four-year starters and Saint Louis returned its top eight scorers from last season's 23-8 team.

The Billikens beat Indiana State at home 78-59 on Tuesday night, then hastily prepared to host North Carolina State on Thursday. That game was a last-minute addition to the schedule, replacing a COVID-19 cancellation.

Saint Louis didn't have a full practice Wednesday. Coach Travis Ford opted to stage a walk-through instead so his players could rest their legs.

"We came out of the game Tuesday night really tired, for whatever reason," Ford said. "I thought they needed rest. It was a sleepless night (Wednesday) night, to say the least, because we weren't able to prepare the way we needed. Mental preparation was all it was. That's hard to do against a pressing team."

After a sluggish first half, the Billikens blitzed the Wolfpack 51-34 in the second half.

"Even the shots they made in the second half, I thought were tough," Ford said. "We did a good job picking up the pressure and not necessarily forcing the tempo but being a little more aggressive than we played in the first half."

The Billikens had more time to prepare for the Gophers and standout guard Marcus Carr, who has averaged 19.2 points and dished 29 assists in his past five games.

--Field Level Media