MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Tubby Smith's debut at Minnesota came against an overmatched Division II team in a game that doesn't even count on the schedule.
That mattered little to the Golden Gophers, who are searching for anything positive after one of the worst seasons in school history.
With chants of ``Tuh-BEE! Tuh-BEE!'' filling the student section, Smith's tenure at Minnesota got off to a rousing start.
Lawrence McKenzie scored 24 points and Dan Coleman added 17 to lead the Gophers to a 94-68 exhibition victory over Minnesota State, Mankato on Thursday night in Smith's first game as coach since he left Kentucky for the Twin Cities.
``It's only an exhibition game, but coming off last year, we need everything we can get,'' guard Lawrence Westbrook said. ``It definitely feels good.''
Jake Morrow scored 22 points and Jadee Jones added 21 for Division II Minnesota State, Mankato, which started one senior and is looking to replace Luke Anderson, who graduated last year as the school's career scoring leader.
``You can tell there's just a different air about the confidence and the level that these guys are playing,'' Mavericks coach Matt Margenthaler said of the Gophers. ``Even though everybody knows the talent level isn't where they want it yet, they're playing like it already is.''
Though he was considered to be on the hot seat at Kentucky, Smith's move from one of the premier programs in the country to reeling Minnesota was no less stunning.
He has been welcomed with open arms by a demoralized Gopher fan base that is starving for any semblance of credibility to be restored to a down trodden program.
Smith's name alone carries plenty of weight, and the Gophers are counting on his reputation to lure big time recruits to the Twin Cities, something Dan Monson was never able to do in seven rocky seasons at the helm.
Monson's recruiting failures coupled with NCAA sanctions following an academic fraud scandal under Clem Haskins to make things miserable in the once rockin' Barn.
Last year the Gophers went 9-22 and 3-13 in the Big Ten, the worst record in the school's 111-year history.
Athletic director Joel Maturi shelled out big bucks to lure Smith north, and though he has a lot of work to do, improvement could be seen in Smith's first game.
``After last year, I felt like it's a new beginning,'' McKenzie said. ``Just to get that taste out of your mouth. It was a long season and today, it's a new beginning.''
Last year, the Gophers lost at home to Division II Winona State in an exhibition game, a foreshadowing to an embarrassing season that saw the firing of Monson just seven games into the season.
In their first outing under Smith, the Gophers did what they were supposed to do - outclass an overmatched opponent.
There was a bluish tint to that Gopher gold, with Minnesota running the fast break every chance it got, creating turnovers on defense and hitting open 3-pointers.
``I can tell tonight they're really tuned in and picking up some of the things we've been trying to teach,'' Smith said.
The Gophers led 19-5 with 12:25 to go in the first half, and the Mavericks never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
Jonathan Williams led the Gophers with 13 rebounds and the Gophers shot 54 percent from the field.
The Mavericks hit seven 3-pointers, but committed 19 turnovers, were outrebounded 42-32 and shot just 37 percent.
Still stinging from years of failure under Monson, Williams Arena was only a little over half full for this one.
Judging by the missed jumpers, the careless alley-oop passes and the overall lack of athleticism on display on Thursday night, Gopher fans will have to be a little patient with new regime.
Smith looked right at home in Minneapolis, though he is still getting used to the Barn's famed raised floor after coaching for 10 years at hallowed Rupp Arena.
``It's interesting because I was always worried about whether I was going to fall in the pit,'' Smith said. ``But it's no different. The court's the same dimensions.''

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