Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith went into their matchup with No. 8 North Carolina with a 3-0 record on the season and looking for an upset win that could probably give him some type of direction as to where his team stood. Blake Hoffarber gave him the answer he needed as he scored 20 points to lead the Golden Gophers to their 72-67 win.
The win put Minnesota in Sunday’s final against West Virginia in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament. With the win over the Tar Heels and a victory on Sunday, the Golden Gophers could possibly land themselves in the top 25 of College Basketball and also become a real contender in the Big Ten. But Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe doesn’t read to much into the rankings.
“If we’re in the Top 25, that’s great, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really mean much because once you go on the court, the rankings go out the window,” Mbakwe said.
Friday’s matchup was a contest between two national championship-winning coaches in Smith and the Tar Heels’ Roy Williams. Smith got the best performance in this game from his Golden Gophers. North Carolina made runs throughout the game but Minnesota always responded. They also never trailed in the second half of the game.
The Tar Heels headed into the season with high expectations following last year where they experienced 17 losses. And after Friday, they showed they are still a work in process.
“We just lost our composure from the first moment of the game,” Williams said. “They whacked us a couple of times. They were the more aggressive team right from the start and we did all the backpedaling.”
North Caroline did not get any help from Harrison Barnes who is the first freshman preseason All-America team pick. He finished with just 6 points and missed all of his 12 shots. Tyler Zeller led the Tar Heels with 16 points.
The Gophers were in control of the game from the opening tip, even when the Tar Heels tied the game at 41 in the second half. Hoffarber got the Gophers back on track with a three and MBakwe followed with a dunk and Minnesota never looked back.
The Tar Heels got within 6 with 19 seconds left but could not pull out a come-from-behind win. They have dropped to 2-1 on the year and will play Vanderbilt on Sunday.