MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota coach Tubby Smith turned to his longtime friend and Tennessee Tech coach Mike Sutton, smiled and shrugged.
It was all Smith could do after watching Lawrence Westbrook sink a double-pump 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer, capping a 15-7 run to put the Gophers (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) ahead by 15 points. They coasted from there to a stress-free 87-50 victory over the Eagles on Friday night.Westbrook, Minnesota's leading scorer a season ago, finished with 22 points to lead all scorers. Freshman Rodney Williams added 14 points."When you can gain that kind of momentum going into the locker room, your guys feel better about themselves," Smith said. "They get a little more confidence that they believe their shots can go in."Westbrook also keyed a 16-5 run to start the second half and help the Gophers (1-0) pull away. After the run, Minnesota led by at least 22 points the rest of the way.Damian Johnson added nine points, six steals, five blocks and three assists. Ralph Sampson III had nine points, a team-high nine rebounds and a pair of blocks, and Colton Iverson blocked four shots and grabbed seven boards to help control the interior.The Gophers outscored the Eagles 44-10 in the paint, and blocked 15 shots.Elijah Muhammad scored led Tennessee Tech with 12 points, while Kevin Murphy had 10. The Eagles (0-1) turned the ball over 27 times and shot just 28.3 percent."We're just a little overmatched this early in the year with a young team," Sutton said. "We competed, but it's hard to score at the rim against them."Minnesota led by only seven with less than 2 minutes to play in the first half, despite forcing 17 turnovers the first 20 minutes. Westbrook's buzzer-beater stole the momentum for the Gophers, who shot a scorching 67.9 percent in the second half thanks to good ball movement.The Gophers finished with 25 assists on 34 made field goals."With any talented team you're not going to win unless you play together," Westbrook said. "When we share the ball, we're going to get a lot of easy shots and layups and eventually our athleticism is going to wear on teams."While Westbrook was leading the way, the highly touted Williams was pleasing the crowd with a trio of thunderous dunks. He also notched two rebounds, assists, steals and blocks."Rodney is one of the most exciting players in the country," Westbrook said. "He jumps higher than anyone I've ever seen. When you have somebody like that to score on the break or block shots, if he keeps working on his game, sky's the limit."Williams and guard Justin Cobbs made their season debuts for Minnesota.Out of uniform were freshman Royce White, senior Devron Bostick and junior transfer Trevor Mbakwe.White is suspended indefinitely after being charged with shoplifting and assault stemming from an incident at the Mall of America in October. He was not on Minnesota's bench Friday, but Smith said he would not give an update on White's status until "everything is finalized."Bostick is also suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules. Mbakwe will not be allowed to play until his pending court case on a felony aggravated battery charge stemming from an alleged attack on a woman in Miami in April is cleared up."We're definitely a better team with them," Westbrook said. "But we're confident even without the guys who are not with us right now that we're a good team. We don't have anything to prove to anybody."