The Iowa Hawkeyes are not strangers to surrendering points, with the pace at which they prefer to play. Yet, these Hawkeyes were taken apart as never before in the five Big Ten losses they brought to Williams Arena on Tuesday night.
A Richard Pitino team that scored the embarrassing totals of 54, 49 and 46 points in its previous three games shredded Iowa for 51 points in an astounding first half. The Gophers followed that by slowing down when advisable in the second half, made 13 of 14 free throws in the final 70 seconds and put away the Hawkeyes 95-89.
This was the most points for the Gophers in a Big Ten game since they won at Indiana 96-91 on Jan. 8, 1997. That was in overtime. They had not reached 95 points in regulation in the Big Ten since a 105-74 victory over Northwestern on Jan. 11, 1995.
There were two sources for this explosion: Iowa’s willingness to play fast, and a basket on the east end of the court that looked as large as a hot tub for the Gophers in the first half.
Austin Hollins went 4-for-4 on threes aimed at that basket. OK, it has been a tough senior season for Austin, but Gophers fans have seen enough moments in 131 previous career games to accept this as feasible.
Andre Hollins and Malik Smith both went 1-for-2 on threes. OK, Andre has been coolish since returning from an ankle injury, and the bombs haven’t been dropping for Smith, but no one is going to be surprised when that pair makes half of their threes.
That left Charles Buggs, a redshirt freshman who had played a total of two minutes and a few seconds in 15 previous Big Ten games.
Thus, it was a bit of a shock when Buggs entered in the game’s first five minutes. With nothing to go on, the Hawkeyes basically ignored Buggs on the offensive end, and the lanky 6-9 forward turned into Kevin Love:
He shot 3-for-3 on three-pointers, the last of which was contested. He had another basket on a drive for 11 points in 14 minutes.
You can’t lose a game when a player who has been invisible goes berserk with 11 points in 14 minutes, right?
As good as was that story, even better was the revival of Austin Hollins. He was lauded for three seasons for his effort by the previous coach, Tubby Smith, and the same review has been offered by the straight-shooting Pitino.
No player who puts that much into it should be required to go through the offensive misery that Hollins has endured in his last Big Ten season. His inability to produce at key moments had been significant in the Gophers’ offensive struggles.
“Austin deserved a performance like this,” said Andre Hollins, a junior who had been his primary backcourt partner for the previous two seasons. “His games are limited now. He knows this is his last go-round.
“As far as I’m concerned, he’s the most professional guy on this team in preparing for a game. You never could tell if he’s in a slump or coming off a game like this by the way he’s going to practice.”
Austin wound up 8-for-10 from the field, 7-for-7 on free throws and finished with a career-high 27 points.
He came in at 24 percent (13-for-54) on threes in the Big Ten. And now in his second-to-last scheduled game in the Barn, there was Austin bombing four in the first half and finishing 4-for-6.
Did the cylinder look a bit larger than it has most of this winter?
“Yeah, the basket does get a little bigger when you start off making a couple,” he said. “What matters is it was a huge win after a couple of tough losses.”
It was mentioned to Austin that the media has done much evaluating of his play in the Big Ten season — and the assessments have not been kind. What’s his evaluation of his play over the past two months?
“I don’t spend time on that,” Austin said. “I look at it one game at a time.”
Good enough, but for the senior guard, this was certainly one game for him and the Williams Arena faithful to remember.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org