For the first 20 minutes of Minnesota’s portion of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge it looked like the same under-achieving team that had somehow become the new normal was once again taking the floor. With faulty ballhandling and an inability to maintain momentum, the Gophers looked just as lost in the half-court offense as they had in both games out in New York City.
But behind a raucous 2nd half that saw 52 points and hot shooting from Andre Hollins, the Gophers jumped out to a double digit lead early on and never looked back en route to a dominating 84-69 victory over Wake Forest.
Hollins was the key to the game that saw four of five starters score in double figures. Big Dre finished with 27 points, hitting 7 of his ten attempts from deep and pulling down seven rebounds. And against a Demon Deacon team that came into the game ranked second in the nation in rebound margin, the Gophers won the battle of the boards by 10 and matched Wake on the offensive glass.
Several key adjustments came after problems had plagued Minnesota against both St. John’s and Georgia. Hollins, for one, played much more in control after struggling to hold on to the ball in New York. Carlos Morris, only days after seeming to solidify himself as the team’s unquestioned chucker, managed his attempts much better and went 6-10 from the field for a cool 15 points. Even crazier, the small forward nabbed eight steals, giving Wake Forest fits in the defensive set. And after committing three turnovers early in the game, Mo Walker settled down to rack up 10 points and successfully converting a handful of timely putbacks.
The win was important, not only for picking up a true non-conference road win against a major conference opponent, but for showing that whatever the Gophers brought to the table in the NIT Tip-Off was, at least for the time being, not a trend. Where Minnesota struggled to finish off games against St. John’s and Georgia, they instead put the hammer down right from the outset in the second half and kept up the pressure for 20 minutes. The defense was once again the constant, forcing the Deacons into 18 turnovers for the game. Responding to untimely runs in the first half, Minnesota didn’t allow Wake to get into any sort of rhythm.
Of course, the game wasn’t without drawbacks. For as much as the Gophers dominated in the second half, they didn’t inspire all that much confidence in the first, and looked much like they did out in NYC. Hot shooting can go a long ways, and it’s tough to lose when a team shoots 50% from deep and hits 12 threes. And the team, once again, relied heavily on jump shooting to win the game. Mo Walker didn’t get a whole lot of looks, and living and dying from jump shots is a dangerous way to play.
Still, the Gophers survived the toughest part of their non-conference schedule, going 2-2 in games against major opponents. And while they would have preferred to go 3-1 and face Gonzaga, things certainly could have gone worse, considering what they brought to the table. Any blowout on the road against a BCS conference opponent should not be understated.
- Carlos Morris looked like a much different player throughout the game. His shots were calculated and he didn’t force anything. Further, he attacked the hoop instead of largely pulling up, which often works well for him. I’m curious to know if someone got in his ear after his frightful performances in NYC.
- Pitino, in the second half, ran out the lineup of Hollins, Nate Mason and Dre Mathieu, which means a lot of speed and a lot of shooting prowess. It’s certainly a fun one to watch. He even gave Morris a few minutes at the four, for an even smaller lineup.
- Charles Buggs was far from lightning in a bottle. He played only 8 minutes, went 0-4 from the field and committed three fouls.
- Hollins’ 27 points were the most he’s scored since a 28-point outburst against UCLA in the NCAA Tournament in 2013.