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One game after being MIA for the entire game, Austin Hollins showed why he’s one of the leaders of this team and one of the most dangerous scorers when he’s on the court. Behind 18 points, four three-pointers and a thunderous dunk worthy of SportsCenter’s top plays, Hollins led the Gophers to a wild 82-79 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers in what marked Richard Pitino’s first Big Ten conference victory.

It wasn’t all bunnies and marshmallows, however. Even with a 19-point lead at one point, the Gophers never truly put the game away, allowing Purdue to claw back to within 3 points with 4 seconds left in the game. Malik Smith made it interesting as he missed his final 2 free throw attempts, allowing for a last-second heave that fell short and palpable exhale from the fans that braved the sub-zero temperatures.

The Gophers never trailed in the game and, outside of a final push by Purdue in the final four minutes, were in complete control the entire game. The other half of Hollinsanity, Andre, held things together from the line, and hit a couple of timely three pointers that pushed Minnesota’s lead. And in a game that featured 39 fouls and 55 free throw attempts between both teams, the younger Hollins canned 9 of 11 attempts at the line.

Elliott Eliason was a beast down low once again, putting up 8 points and 7 rebounds while swatting an impressive 6 blocks. And as Richard Pitino pointed out after the game, he was whistled on a couple of debatable blocks that were called fouls.

After missing a golden opportunity to pick up a win at home against Michigan earlier in the week, the Purdue game presented a timely opportunity for the Gophers on multiple levels. First, the opening part of the schedule is pretty soft, and Minnesota had (has) three excellent chances to pick up conference wins. The potential of going 0-3 in that stretch and starting off on the complete wrong foot is mercifully gone. Second, the Gophers showed that they certainly play with, and dominate, at least one team in the conference. For a team still working on its identity, it was comforting to see their quick, shot-heavy approach come together in a win. They showed that they can give away leads in a heartbeat, but they also showed that they have enough composure to keep things from completely melting down. That’s nice to see this early in the season and in Pitino’s tenure.

Penn State is up next, and they bring a pretty nasty backcourt to the table.

Notes/Thoughts:

  • I preach it all the time, but free throws in this new-ish era of foul-heavy basketball are at a premium. And the Gophers showed exactly why good free throw shooting wins games. They scored 23 points at the line on 85% free throw shooting, which was key down the stretch.
  • Daquein McNeil played a season/career high 13 minutes and looked pretty smooth, outside of an ugly airball. In a crowded backcourt he played twice the minutes of Maverick Ahanmisi, who continues to look suspect with the ball. Even though Ahanmisi is a senior, it appears his playing time is in jeopardy of being usurped by McNeil, and we could be seeing the beginnings of the freshman becoming the backup PG to Drizzy Mathieu.
  • Eliason was effective in major minutes and didn’t run into foul trouble, which was a problem earlier in the season. And his ability to change the game in the paint was clear in the stat sheet and on hustle points. He’s picked up more than 3 fouls only once since the Florida State game.