A dramatic three-pointer by Austin Hollins and late defensive stops salvaged a crucial home victory.
Hold off, for now, on the narrative of Minnesota's big comeback.
Eventually, to truly get back on their feet from the skid they started three weeks ago, the Gophers will need more than heart and scrappiness at the end of games.
But for one game, the late theatrics and final-minute execution came through, with the No. 23 Gophers slipping out of Williams Arena with a 62-59 win over Iowa on Sunday. While it's clear there is plenty left to do for the team, gaining a two-game winning streak as it heads to No. 13 Michigan State for a game Wednesday was vital.
"We couldn't afford to lose a game at home here," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. "We had one foot in the grave, but we were able to dig our way out and claw our way back in it."
After allowing a 12-point first-half lead to dissolve to a 29-28 edge by halftime, Minnesota (17-5, 5-4 Big Ten) got some late magic from junior guard Austin Hollins (17 points and five rebounds), who came out of a Gophers timeout and nailed a three-pointer to put the Gophers on top 60-59 with 11.6 seconds remaining.
Then, to the glee of the sporadically frustrated announced crowd of 14,625, Hollins held his poise and made a steal on the other end with five seconds left to seal the victory.
"His execution at the end of the game was perfect," sophomore guard Andre Hollins said of teammate Austin. "And that's what we need to do through the entire season."
One game after effectively creating better offensive spacing and movement to blow past Nebraska and eradicate a four-game losing streak, the Gophers' efficiency in the half-court seemed to evaporate Sunday, struggling to convert off screens or get inside the Hawkeyes' zone.
The Gophers jumped out to a 14-2 lead in the first five minutes of the first half behind an effective press, scoring from all over the court and getting eight of their first 14 points from Austin Hollins. But four turnovers in a span of 4:24 aided a Hawkeyes 16-5 run to bring them within a point at 19-18.
"We weren't getting the right spacing," senior forward Rodney Williams said. "Iowa wasn't playing any defense that we hadn't seen before, so I think it was just us not getting to the right spots."
Iowa (14-8, 3-6) took its first lead at 32-31 on an Adam Woodbury layup with 17:40 remaining, and neither team led by more than four points the rest of the way. The Gophers kept close by limiting the Hawkeyes' leading scorers -- Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White, both averaging about 14 points per game -- to 10 points and five rebounds for White and zero points and three rebounds for Marble.
Iowa still led 59-55 with 2:12 to play, before Joe Coleman scored on layup on a pass from Austin Hollins with 1:47 left. Then Austin popped in his go-ahead three-pointer with 11.6 seconds to go, and his final steal was part of four consecutive Gophers defensive stops to seal the victory.
Edging Iowa wasn't enough to inspire overflowing confidence as the Gophers head to East Lansing this week, but it was enough -- for now -- to get the job done.
"It shows the kind of team we are, to go out there and win this game, being down like that," Austin Hollins said. "We didn't particularly play our best game, but we played a decent game and we pulled it out."
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