THE STORY: Minnesota rode senior forward Trevor Mbakwe in order to overcome a sluggish start for the second straight game in its 71-55 victory over South Dakota State on Monday.
Mbakwe, who recorded his second double-double of the season with team-high totals of 17 points and 10 rebounds, overcame a sprained thumb and wrist to score 13 of his points during a second half that saw the GoldenGophers use an 18-1 run over a six-minute stretch to erase a five-point deficit.
While Minnesota has managed to defeat Bucknell and South Dakota State by double digits with late surges over the final few minutes, it has trailed by seven and eight points, respectively, at various points during the second half of each contest.
The Gophers figure to be tested again when they meet Fairfield, which fell 80-72 to Providence on Monday in the home debut of new head coach Sydney Johnson. The Stags twice fought back from double-digit deficits, but were unable to capitalize on Rakim Sanders’ career-high-tying 25 points.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
ABOUT FAIRFIELD (1-1): Johnson directed Princeton to the NCAA Tournament last season, when the Tigers pushed eventual Final Four entrant Kentucky to the brink in a two-point loss in the second round. Projected to be one of the top two teams in the MAAC, Fairfield should be one of the tougher mid-majors again this season with a strong defensive team that will feature the solid inside-outside offensive duo of conference Rookie of the Year Derek Needham and 7-0 Ryan Olander.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (2-0): In addition to securing his 21st career double-double in the win over the Jackrabbits, Mbakwe also blocked four blocked shots and added two steals. The Gophers were outrebounded by the smaller Jackrabbits, but forced 18 turnovers and held South Dakota State to 36.5 percent shooting from the field.
1. Johnson’s home debut as the Stags’ coach coincided with the return of Ed Cooley, who led the Stags to a school-record 25 wins and a MAAC regular-season championship last season.
2. Mbakwe has recorded double-doubles in five consecutive games, dating back to last season.
3. Although this is the first-ever meeting between the schools, the Gophers and Stags could face each other again next week if they each reach the championship game at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.