Minnesota tops SE Louisiana, continues perfect startDec 24, 2008 - 7:06 AM MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Minnesota celebrated its entrance into the national rankings with a notable win.
Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook both scored 15 points as No. 23 Minnesota extended its undefeated start with an 80-71 victory over Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday.
Damian Johnson added 13 points for the Golden Gophers (11-0), who matched the best start to a season since the 1976-77 campaign, when former NBA players Kevin McHale and Mychal Thompson were on the team.
Moving into the latest USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll on Monday following a big win over then-No. 9 Louisville two days earlier, Minnesota took a step closer to heading into Big Ten play with a perfect mark.
"I think it's exciting for everybody because it's our first time playing for a ranked team in college," Westbrook said. "Everybody looks at us as an opportunity to get a big win against a ranked team. We know that we're going to get everyone's best shot. But that's great - I want everyone to be gunning for us because it's going to make us a better team in the long run."
The Gophers, who shot 52 percent (29-of-56) from the floor, next will face High Point here on Sunday before squaring off with Michigan State on December 31.
Kevyn Green had 22 points for the Lions (6-5), who dropped to 0-3 against teams from major conferences, losing to Arkansas and Texas Tech earlier.
Southeastern Louisiana gave Minnesota all it could handle early on, taking a 33-31 lead on a layup by Patrick Sullivan with 2:15 left in the first half.
Hoffarber had two free throws and a tip shot as the Gophers closed the opening half with a 9-3 run, grabbing a 40-36 edge.
Behind Hoffarber, the Minnesota reserves outscored Southeastern Louisiana's, 46-14.
"The energy and enthusiasm was great," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said of his bench play. "I think that most guys will play hard no matter what happens. Players like (Travis) Busch and Hoffarber really stepped up and so did Westbrook. They all played well tonight."
The momentum continued after the intermission, as Minnesota scored the first six points. It pulled ahead 57-46 when freshman Devoe Joseph hit a 3-pointer with 12:40 remaining.
"We're happy with the way we responded, but we know that we are going to have to do a better job rebounding the ball," Hoffarber said. "We're going to have to emphasize that when we play games like this. We just have to stick to the fundamentals when we play athletic teams like this."
The Gophers also went on a 7-2 run to open up a 72-59 advantage with 5:11 remaining.
"I think the intensity that Minnesota always starts the second half with really bothered us and got them a bit of a working margin," Southeastern Louisiana coach Jim Yarbrough said. "Minnesota came in and we settled down but we never came all the way back.
"It's amazing how a ballgame can turn around within two minutes and it's very difficult if they continue to play, run, and put pressure on both sides of the ball. It's not a game where they just took over but they just did enough to keep that margin."
Sullivan finished with 15 points and nine rebounds for the Lions, who went 5-of-18 on 3-pointers.
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