The ball in his hands, driving toward the hoop, DeAndre Mathieu looked like a shrub among the redwoods, almost lost beneath Florida State’s towering frontcourt hungrily waiting for him under the basket.
None of that seemed to matter. With quickness that’s at times hard to track, Mathieu dodged the trees and threw the ball up against the backboard, dropping it in boosting the Gophers’ lead to six with 1 minute, 48 seconds to play. The shot helped lift them — on Tuesday night the little team that could — to a 71-61 victory, their biggest of the young season.
“I got my shot blocked all night and I was getting pretty tired of that,” Mathieu said. “[I just wanted to] get it as far away from his hand as possible, as far off the backboard as possible. I knew if I got it off the backboard it was going in.”
In an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game in which the Gophers were outsized at almost every position, they attacked Florida State with strong guard play, hitting a cascade of transition baskets and stifling the Seminoles defensively with full-court pressure and a 2-3 zone, while keeping 7-footers Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo in check.
Andre Hollins led the Gophers with 21 points and four assists, while Austin Hollins added 16 points and five rebounds.
Between the two teams, 52 fouls were called, slowing the pace to a tortoise’s crawl. But the fast-paced Gophers (7-2) were able to overcome offensive deficiencies — they shot just 34 percent from the floor — with strong defense, keeping the Seminoles off-balance throughout.
The Gophers finished the game without their two tallest players, Mo Walker (6-10) and Elliott Eliason (6-11), who both fouled out. But they got to the free-throw line eight times in the final 73 seconds, making five to seal the victory.
“We just kept each other’s heads up and kept telling each other to keep playing hard,” Austin Hollins said of the bevy of calls.
The Gophers had a 10-point lead with 10 minutes left, but repeated trips to the foul line along with a few bruising inside plays had Florida State (5-3) within 60-56 with 4:42 to play.
But the Seminoles were unable to pull closer. The Gophers made 10 of 14 free throws in the last 5:02, while Florida State went only 4-for-9.
“We controlled the game,” Andre Hollins said. “We don’t let size count us out … We just have to compete — that’s our style of basketball. Just being tough.”
After a first half in which the Gophers stayed two steps ahead of Florida State, they came out in the second full of fire. Maverick Ahanmisi left early in the half after losing most of a tooth when his head was slammed to the ground as he dived for a loose ball.
A six-point lead at the break quickly turned into a 15-point differential after a 10-1 run featuring three-point plays from Mathieu and Oto Osenieks. It was capped by a blistering alley oop from Mathieu to Austin Hollins that had Williams Arena rocking.
“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,” coach Richard Pitino said.
The Gophers bounced out to a 23-12 lead and held a 33-27 advantage at halftime after a 13-point first half from Andre Hollins, who hadn’t finished with more than 14 in his past four games. They shot 50 percent from three-point range in the first half, including a 3-for-4 showing for Hollins.