MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The final non-conference warmup for No. 23 Minnesota turned into its most lopsided win of the season.
And according to coach Tubby Smith, the Golden Gophers’ 82-56 victory over High Point on Sunday night proves they’re ready for Big Ten play.
“Our guys played with a purpose, they played with a good concentration and focus,” Smith said. “They know and they understand the intensity level they have to play.”
Ralph Sampson III scored a career-high 17 points to help the Gophers (12-0) to their best start since the 1948-49 team opened 13-0. Minnesota’s last perfect non-conference record was a 9-0 mark in the 1976-77 season. That Gophers team also won its first two Big Ten games for an 11-0 start.
Lawrence Westbrook had 13 points, while Blake Hoffarber, Devron Boston and Devoe Joseph all came off the bench to score 11 for the Gophers, whose 26-point winning margin was by far the largest of the season.
“We were just rolling, getting on the right pace,” Hoffarber said. “When everyone’s clicking like that and everyone’s playing well, it’s tough to beat us.”
Eugene Harris scored 18 points and Steadman Short 13 for High Point, Smith’s alma mater. He’s 4-0 against his old school, with three of those wins coming when he coached at Kentucky.
Minnesota built a 14-5 lead before High Point (4-8) pulled to 18-15 on a basket by Short. But the Gophers began using their superior size to take control, punctuated by a flying dunk by Colton Iverson off Westbrook’s missed shot for a 24-16 lead.
Hoffarber hit a 3-pointer on a fast break, Joseph made two more from beyond the arc to push Minnesota’s lead to 41-22, and the rout was on.
“It was that seven- or eight-minute stretch in the first half where we lost our intensity and turned the ball over and Minnesota hit a bunch of 3s,” High Point coach Bart Lundy said. “You have to give them credit, they turned us over and they made the shots.”
The Panthers resorted to 3-point shooting to keep the score reasonably close, getting 3s from Harris and Nick Barbour just after halftime. But they never got closer than 20 points in the second half and dropped to 0-9 against teams ranked in the Top 25.
Minnesota is 17-0 in non-conference home games since Smith took over as coach before last season. The Gophers open their Big Ten schedule Wednesday against Michigan State.