Gophers coach Richard Pitino wanted to make darn sure that his players didn’t forget.
In consecutive games against Syracuse and Arkansas in Maui, Minnesota had come out of halftime flat. The Gophers started out the second on the wrong foot in both, and wound up losing both games.
Tuesday, it was a different story. After playing hard against Florida State in the first, the Gophers led by six at the break. At the start of the second, Minnesota put its foot over the Seminoles’ throat, instigating a 10-1 run to stretch their advantage to 15 before three minutes had passed.
Florida State went on some modest runs to come within four points on a few different occasions, but Minnesota was able to use its strong start to the half to continue to contain the Seminoles for the remainder.
“That’s why you play those tournaments because we referenced in the locker room at halftime,” Pitino said. “I said if you guys don’t come out more aggressive than you have in the past, this is a great team, a great coach, they’ll jump you. Luckily we were there. We got off to a great start. They came back, which good teams are going to do and we held them off.”
It was something the players had at the forefront of their minds after hiccups in the islands.
Against Syracuse, the Gophers trailed by 3 at the break, but watched the Orange go on a quick 13-2 run to start the second, giving Minnesota a 14-point deficit to try to dig out of. Arkansas put together a 10-0 run out of the break one game later, turning a five-point Gophers advantage into a five-point shortfall.
“Our last two performances out of halftime, we weren’t very strong and we gave up runs,” DeAndre Mathieu. “Coach enforced that we’ve got to have a big spurt out of halftime. We just motivated and talked to each other like we can’t let them get on a run or we’ll get in trouble.”
On Tuesday, that might have been the difference between a win – so far the signature – and a loss. The Gophers needed most of that padding to weather the anticipated late runs by the Seminoles. Against teams like Florida State, Austin Hollins pointed out, it’s hard to take a deep breath until the clock runs down to 0.0.
The victory makes a big impact on the immediate outlook of the Gophers. After a somewhat rough tournament, coming home with a very strong win will mean a lot for the final non-conference stretch. And who knows just how good that win will look when Minnesota’s postseason resume is being examined.
“Moving forward, this is a great win for us,” Austin Hollins said. “They beat VCU, took Florida down to the wire. They’re a battle-tested team and they’ll probably be in the NCAA tournament.”