Read my full game story on the 63-56 win over Penn State here.
This one was not the inspiring outing the Gophers had in their regular-season finale, or the raucous victory they had two games earlier, vs. Iowa (inconveniently helping to start an epic Hawkeyes tumble).
But the Penn State downing got the job done, and now Minnesota advances, getting an opportunity to face border-rival Wisconsin. A win tomorrow would probably spell an entry to the NCAA tournament. That other pesky bubble teams (Arkansas, California, Utah) lost tonight doesn’t hurt either.
On to the good and the bad:
*Austin Hollins has completely reversed his slump and then some. The senior went from seemingly being unable to toss a quarter into an open trash can to looking as dominant as he has in the Big Ten, in his career. With his game-high 18 points tonight, he has now compiled 75 in the last four games. It’s a pretty great time for him to go on a tear.
*Andre Hollins sat for long periods because of foul trouble, but then he came up big when Minnesota needed him, hitting that huge three-pointer with 15 seconds left to seal the win. The Gophers haven’t always shown they have a player who wants to and feels the burden to step up in those late-game moments, and his take-charge attitude was clutch. Will this spur a tear from this Hollins? Minnesota can only hope.
*Pretty good defense. In the last two games, the Gophers have held Penn State to .97 points per possession or fewer. But working that same magic against Wisconsin will be the real test.
*They continued their strong ball handling trend. In the last three games, Minnesota has had 12 turnovers or fewer. That might be the single most positive recent development.
*It wasn’t the most convincing win ever. The Gophers had those goofy stretches where they got sloppy, as we’ve seen plenty this season. They let Penn State ebb and flow; make run after run until the final run that nearly lost the game for Minnesota. A killer instinct has been lacking for most of the season.
*Minnesota allowed 15 offensive rebounds. We’ve seen this before too. The Gophers get lax on that end sometimes, getting lazy on the long rebounds, where Penn State really hurt them on Thursday. Against a better team, this could have been a big problem, but as it is, the Nittany Lions netted 13 second-chance points.
*Malik Smith is still not back. He made a huge three-pointer in the first half, but it was sandwiched between three other absolutely terrible shots, including an air ball. He’s trying to shoot himself out of this slump so badly, and to some extent you have to do that as a player. But Thursday, his shot selection was really hurting the team early.