The doldrums of late December college basketball are a drag. Long stretches of inaction, broken up by a few matchups with subpar teams. For the Gophers, the break for finals is interspersed with games against hyphenated universities like Nebraska-Omaha and Texas A&M-Corpus Christie. Far from inspiring games, they are, at the very least, something to look forward to as we ramp up to the Big Ten season.
Of course, with Michigan right around the corner, the most important thing for the Gophers is to not look past teams that are looking forward to a chance to take down a big conference university. Omaha was the first test on Friday night, and their confidence did not waver, nor were they intimidated by Minnesota. Having put scares into Iowa, UNLV and Drake, while grabbing wins against Northern Illinois and Nevada, the Mavericks are no joke, and showed they can play well on the road.
Behind hot first-half shooting (10-16 from deep), their effectiveness was mind-boggling, as was the fact that they couldn’t seem to grab a lead despite such success away from the basket. Even so, the Gophers found themselves tied at the half, 44-44. But the regression to the mean eventually took hold, and the unsustainable success from deep did not follow the Mavericks as they missed all 8 of their three-point attempts in the 2nd half and the Gophers gradually pulled away to secure a 92-79 victory.
But the story of the game was Minnesota’s offense, which showed it can play both up-tempo and in control. In scoring a season-high 92 points, the Gophers had five players in double figures while two players, Drizzy Mathieu and Malik Smith, hit their season highs in points. Mathieu was on fire all night, going 9-11 from the field while slicing and dicing the Omaha defense. Even after sitting for a stretch with foul trouble, Mathieu was the spark that kept Omaha at bay throughout the 2nd half.
Smith was clutch from deep, and showed everyone just how dangerous he can be when he’s on. In 27 minutes off the bench, Smith scored 19 points behind 5-8 shooting from deep, and scored a ridiculous 13 points in a row to push the Gophers to a huge lead in the second half. The Gophers withstood a late push from the Mavericks late in the game, but free throws helped put the game on ice.
Andre Hollins was another star of the show, and on a night where he notched his 1,000th career point he also nabbed his first career double-double. Hollins pulled down 10 rebounds to go along with his 18 points.
The Gophers are now off for a whole week before they finish out their non-conference season against Texas A&M-Corpus Christie on Dec. 28.
- Elliott Eliason was effective down low and bullied his way to a 10-point, 9-rebound night. He inexplicably did not pick up a foul, which allowed him to play his most minutes since the Syracuse game. UNO had no answer for Eliason, who basically did what he wanted down low.
- Mathieu’s 27 points was the most by a non-Andre Hollins Gopher player since Joe Coleman lit up Illinois for 29 points last January
- Pitino showed his ability to adjust at halftime and the Minnesota defense did not allow Omaha to score from three-point range in the second half after throttling the Gophers for 30 points from deep in the first.
- Austin Hollins had another highlight dunk and added to his already impressive collection of Rodney Williams impressions.
- Oto Osenieks started but only saw nine minutes of action. With Smith’s hot shooting and the Gophers looking to play small most of the game, guards filled in for the most part.