Mathieu, Smith help Gophers hold off Nebraska Omaha

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 21, 2013 - 7:46 AM

Malik Smith and DeAndre Mathieu shined the most to pull the Gophers to victory at the end.

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It was a night of accolades for the Gophers men’s basketball team, and it needed every bit of them to overcome scrappy Nebraska Omaha.

One game after Austin Hollins reached 1,000 points, his backcourt cohort Andre Hollins continued the “Hollinsanity” by hitting the milestone. Malik Smith and DeAndre Mathieu each achieved career highs in points with momentous performances down the stretch. And eventually, the Gophers, behind the strength of their guards, pushed past the fast-paced, hot-shooting Mavericks 92-79 on Friday night at Williams Arena.

Nebraska Omaha hit 10 of 16 three-pointers in the first half and scored only 16 points in the paint. But UNO missed all eight of its three-point attempts after halftime, which helped the Gophers gradually pull away.

Andre Hollins also had a career-high 10 rebounds, which combined with his 18 points resulted in the first double-double of his career.

He achieved the 1,000-point milestone on a pair of free throws with 8 minutes, 17 seconds left in the first half, en route to a game in which he seemed to finally break out of a shooting slump that has limited him the previous six games.

“I’m even more excited about the double-double than the 1,000 points,” said Hollins, who remembers last recording a double-double sometime in high school. “It was a good night.”

Smith (19 points) and Mathieu (27 points, four assists, two steals) took over in impressive fashion down the stretch, leading the Gophers to a strong finish.

Elliott Eliason (10 points, nine rebounds, four steals) had an impressive game himself, and Austin Hollins added four rebounds and six assists to his 10 points.

But despite all of the fine performances, the Gophers’ last contest before their holiday break was far from smooth.

The Gophers (10-2) had authored a 13-4 run, highlighted by the start of 13 consecutive points from Smith, to pull ahead by 11, the biggest lead of the game at that point, with 12:35 to go.

Then, as the Mavericks had done all night, they plowed back within four. That’s when the third hero of the night, Mathieu, took over. The lightning-quick point guard followed Smith’s run with 11 points in the final 6:34. The first of those baskets came after UNO (8-4) had pulled within 74-71. With 2:46 to play, Mathieu made another jumper to give the Gophers an 85-79 lead, and they held on from there.

“Those two guys on this team, they’re fearless when they go out there,” coach Richard Pitino said. “We almost need to get Andre and Austin [Hollins] to kind of get that mentality, as well as Elliott and Mo [Walker] — that fearless mentality.”

After Caleb Steffensmeier hit Nebraska Omaha’s 10th three-pointer of the first half at the halftime buzzer, the score was tied 44-44.

The Mavericks hit 10 threes from five different shooters in the first half to stay toe-to-toe with their hosts each time it appeared as though the Gophers — who were shooting pretty well themselves, making 48.3 percent of their shots in the first half — would pull away.

In the second half, Minnesota, which mixed in man-to-man and zone defenses along with its full-court press, was able to challenge shooters better from beyond the arc.

“We didn’t leave shooters anymore,” Mathieu said. “We were leaving shooters, helping down on bigs and whatnot. Coach said stay at home, don’t leave. We contested shots and made it tough for them.”

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