With the narrative firmly in place, the Gophers entered Tuesday night’s game against #20 Iowa in a precarious position: win and put themselves in position to score an NCAA Tournament bid or lose and abandon basically all hope of waltzing into the postseason. And for a team that has basically played up or down to its opponent’s level all season, Minnesota’s found itself in an opportunistic situation.
Behind career games from Austin Hollins and Charles Buggs (!) and superb performances from Andre Hollins and Drizzzzzy Mathieu, the Gophers ran Iowa up and down the court and lit the nets on fire in a 95-89 victory. The point total marked the highest in a conference game since 1993 and reflected a hot-shooting game that saw Minnesota break out of its shooting slump to the tune of 61% from the field while nailing 11 three pointers. The game wasn’t perfectly played, as the Gophers coughed up the ball 14 times, committed 20 fouls and gave Iowa 13 offensive rebounds, but behind 19 assists and an 83% mark from the free throw line, their offense covered up any misgivings in the fundamentals department.
But the story of the game was Austin Hollins, who busted out of his recent slump by going 8-10 from the field, 4-6 from deep and 7-7 from the line to total 27 points. Scoring 10 points or less in his past five games, Hollins recently drew the ire of fans who expected more from the senior guard. And for a guy who was expected to shoulder plenty of the scoring load this season, seeing him score in the single digits just wasn’t cutting it. But his confidence was riding high after a few early makes and he never looked back. A streaky player, Hollins is hopefully finding some sort of groove as the regular season winds down.
And how about Charles Buggs? Entering the game after Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker ran into foul trouble, the seldom-used forward had an exceptional coming-out party, scoring 13 points in 19 minutes while going 5-6 from the field and hitting all three of his attempts from deep. It was a staggering performance for a guy who previously had TWO minutes of conference playing time and had only seen action in six games this season. A fan favorite, his shots brought the crowd into the game early on.
Deandre Mathieu on any other night probably would have garnered player of the game honors had it not been for two other career performances. The Drizzle played nearly mistake-free basketball while giving the Hawkeyes a lesson in scoring in transition. He racked up a quiet 19 points, dished out seven assists and only turned the ball over once. It was an MVP-type performance for someone who has become the rock of the team. As Mathieu goes, so do the Gophers.
The win is significant in that it gets the Gophers back on track to control their tournament destiny. At 7-9 in the conference, it appears that they need to win just one more game this season to be in good position to lock up a bid. And with the dismal Penn State Nittany Lions coming to town in the final game of the season, the stage is set to get that crucial eighth win. Of course, it would be nice to just lock up a postseason berth with a win on the road at Michigan this weekend, but just one step at a time.
- The Gophers are 8-0 when Dre Mathieu scores 16 points or more.
- Elliott Eliason managed only 11 minutes and has gotten more than 20 minutes in just two of the past six games. For a veteran big man, his regression is disturbing in that he’s committing the same mistakes he did early in the season. Dumb fouls and poor decision making. It seems like ages ago that he was one of the better big men in the conference, but the reality is that he hasn’t scored or rebounded in double figures in 11 straight games. Ish.
- Mathieu’s 7 assists are a season high for the point guard.
- “This must be what it’s like to trip on mushrooms.” – overheard during the mascot basketball game at halftime.