Read my full game story on Minnesota's 67-64 overtime win here.
Tuesday was the kind of night that Gophers fans had long been waiting to see.
No, Minnesota's semifinal victory over Florida State -- which sends the Gophers to the NIT title game for the second time in three years -- wasn't the tidiest wrap-up. There were plenty of flaws. The Gophers were shorthanded, in foul trouble almost immediately, out-rebounded 40-33 and managed to shoot just 38.9 percent from the field. They also allowed a double-digit first half lead to crumble in the final minutes, when the Seminoles surged back to send the game to overtime on an improbable three-point shot by Devon Bookert.
In spite of all that, Minnesota showed that when the dynamic backcourt is clicking, it can overcome a lot.
DeAndre Mathieu (17 points), Andre Hollins (13 points) and Austin Hollins (17 points) combined to go 7-for-12 from three-point range and proved to be the difference-makers in a true gut-it-out win.
At the beginning of the year, that prospect lent hope to a Minnesota team that had clear flaws elsewhere. Some of those flaws have flipped -- a seemingly shaky frontcourt has emerged as a bonafide strength at times.
But when that asset was stripped away (Elliott Eliason did not play due to a turned left ankle and Joey King played just seven minutes due to foul trouble), it was the guard trio that stepped up.
It hasn't been the case for most of the year.
Those three have each posted double digits on the same night just three other times since the start of the Big Ten slate.
It's no coincidence that all of them (vs. Purdue, vs. Iowa, vs. Penn State) were wins. When the starting backcourt is rolling that smoothly, the Gophers are tough to stop.
"Finally," coach Richard Pitino said. "It hasn't happened much ... I tell you what, at the beginning of the game we showed what we can become offensively. Then we got into foul trouble and we had to change up a lot of things. But we were really tough to guard at the beginning of the game. Things were clicking and when those three guys are clicking, we are hard to guard."
Behind that hot start, Minnesota built a 15-point lead with 6:36 to go in the first half. Floria State found another gear when the Gophers cooled, but it turned out Minnesota needed every bit of that padding.
That high-flying perimeter game only becomes more important against Southern Methodist -- whom Minnesota will play in the championship on Thursday. The Mustangs rank ninth in the nation in two-point defense, and Eliason could be out once again. And once again frontcourt depth will be a concern.