Schnepf: Minnesota's Mbakwe gave 'a man's effort' in win over NDSU
MINNEAPOLIS -- It was only about nine months ago when Trevor Mbakwe was devouring some buffalo wings in Fargo-Moorhead.
Tuesday night, he was devouring rebounds like a hungry college kid. His career-high 18 boards sparked his University of Minnesota men's basketball team to a 70-57 win over North Dakota State.
"As I walked up here, Trevor Mbakwe got five more rebounds," joked Saul Phillips as he sat down for the postgame news conference in Williams Arena. "I will say this. If we see a Trevor Mbakwe play in the EDC tournament, we're going to offer him a scholarship."
The closest Mbakwe came to playing basketball in Fargo was when he was visiting a friend last February. He was spotted at a Minnesota State Moorhead basketball game watching his friend Xavier Reed play. He was also spotted at the local Buffalo Wild Wings.
"It was my first trip up there ... it was fun," Mbakwe said.
He also had fun against the Bison, who were staying right with the No. 13-ranked Gophers, trailing only 29-26 with 75 seconds left of the first half.
For the rest of the first half and first 6½ minutes of the second half, Mbakwe scored 11 of his 18 points and produced his only blocked shot. That sparked a 20-6 run that gave the Gophers to a 49-32 lead.
"A man's effort," said Phillips, whose 8-3 Bison managed to beat the 14½-point spread. "He's a beast. He's so quick to grab rebounds out of his area."
That wasn't the case last year, after Mbakwe blew out his right knee early in the season. That's why he was able to visit Fargo-Moorhead.
"The knees are feeling great," said Mbakwe, who blew out his left knee earlier in his college career.
Perhaps recovering from ACL knee surgery is one reason Gophers head coach Tubby Smith is not starting Mbakwe. Considering that he led the Big Ten Conference in rebounding two years ago and considering he posted his 25th career double-double Tuesday night, the 6-foot-8, 245-pound Mbakwe has to be one of the best sixth men in college basketball right now.
"I don't mind it if I'm not starting," said Mbakwe, a St. Paul native who played at Miami Dade Community College and Marquette before transferring to Minnesota.
His playing time will most likely increase once the Gophers hit the Big Ten Conference schedule, which includes No. 1 Indiana, No. 3 Michigan, No. 7 Ohio State, No. 10 Illinois and No. 19 Michigan State.
The Bison have now gotten a taste of what it's like to play both Indiana and the Gophers. Earlier this season, the Bison took an 87-61 loss at Indiana.
"Both are good teams," Phillips said. "Both will be tournament teams."
Mbakwe said the same about NDSU, which is now 0-7 against the Gophers during its Division I era.
"They are a tough team," Mbakwe said. "Playing them has kind of turned into a mini-rivalry. We know they have a good chance of making the tournament."
Kind words from a man who devoured all of the rebounds he could against the Bison.
Schnepf is the sports editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.