Gophers' roll has them headed for NYC

  • Article by: TOM KREAGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 22, 2012 - 8:25 AM

Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins led the way to another road win.

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MURFREESBORO, TENN. - The Gophers have been road warriors since the NIT began.

None of them are complaining; their next road trip will be to the Big Apple.

The Gophers defeated Middle Tennessee State 78-72 Wednesday night in front of 10,521 in the NIT men's basketball quarterfinals.

They will play Washington on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. UMass will play Stanford in the other semifinal.

"At the beginning of the season when we were on the road we weren't concentrating and finishing games out," Minnesota freshman guard Andre Hollins said. "But now we are starting to gel and get some continuity.

"We are playing harder and some of our best basketball right now. We just need to keep it rolling."

All three of the Gophers' NIT victories have come on the road.

"Getting to New York to play in the Garden is special for anybody," Gophers junior forward Rodney Williams said. "I don't think any of us have gotten a chance to play in the Garden. We've been through some things this year with injuries and stuff like that."

Minnesota hit 11 of 12 free throws in the final minute to withstand one final MTSU comeback. Hollins, who was Tennessee's Mr. Basketball in Class AAA last year as a senior at White Station in Memphis, hit two free throws with 7.2 seconds left after LaRon Dendy's technical foul for touching the ball on an inbound iced it.

MTSU had trimmed the lead to 74-72 at the time of the technical. Hollins added two more for good measure after being fouled on the inbound after the technical.

"I had the ball in front of me and I pulled it back," said Williams, who was the inbound man on the play. "He just reached over and slapped the ball out of my hands. Luckily, the ref saw it because it took me a minute to realize what happened.

"But he slapped it out of my hands and it hit the court."

Said Dendy: "He just dropped the ball. But the referee said I touched it."

It was the 12th game Hollins has played at MTSU, which holds the state's high school state basketball tournament. He finished with 24 points and was 8-for-8 at the foul line. Williams also scored 24 points.

"I was very comfortable," Hollins said. "It was familiar territory for me. I got up to the [free-throw] line and concentrated.

"It felt homey for me. It was great to come back to Tennessee and play MTSU. It was a great game."

The Gophers led by as many as nine points in the second half before MTSU made one last run. The teams exchanged the lead multiple times in the first half.

"It was a real battle out there," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. "We were playing extremely hard and extremely well there, and they found a way to stay in the game, especially at the end.

"It was just two teams playing hard in a good tournament."

  • GOPHERS 78, MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE 72 NIT semifinals: 8 p.m. Tuesday vs. Washington • Madison Square Garden • TV: ESPN2 (1500-AM)

    Three Big Ten teams are in action tonight in the NCAA's round of 16 C6 Royce White going pro C6
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