MINNEAPOLIS — With stars Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams having uncharacteristically quiet nights, the Gophers men’s basketball team relied on the deep ball to beat visiting South Dakota State on Tuesday by a 88-64 final.
Mbakwe and Williams combined for just 10 points Tuesday, with Mbakwe scoring eight of those. Williams, who snapped a streak in which he scored double figures in 18 straight games, didn’t get on the board until a slam dunk in the second half.
It didn’t seem to matter for the 14th-ranked Gophers, however, as their depth and their 3-point shooting were on display Tuesday. One game after going 1-for-13 from downtown against North Florida, Minnesota hit a season-high 10 3-pointers against the Jackrabbits, who were without their leading scorer in senior Nate Wolters.
“That’s something we struggled with last time out,” said Gophers coach Tubby Smith. “Tonight, to make 10 was pretty good.”
Three-point shooting was a point of emphasis for Minnesota after the win over North Florida. That game was easily the Gophers’ worst performance from downtown this season as they shot just 7.7 percent from the floor.
That changed Tuesday night thanks in large part to Andre Hollins who, like his teammates, struggled from downtown against North Florida. Early on against SDSU, Hollins couldn’t miss from three. The sophomore guard was a perfect 6-for-6 from downtown before finally missing.
“If I’m hot, Coach is telling me to shoot the ball,” Hollins said.
Hollins took a step back for his sixth make of the night, perhaps attempting to see just how hot he was. But after making six straight, Hollins forced up a shot from long range with a defender on him as the Minnesota student section chanted his name.
The miss was a rare blip on an otherwise impressive night for the sophomore who earlier this year dropped 40 points against Memphis. Hollins’ first-half performance induced a little déjà vu of that game.
“He was lighting it up,” said sophomore Joe Coleman, who added 15 points. “I was thinking, ‘Why aren’t they guarding him?’ They obviously know he’s capable of scoring.”
Hollins finished 6-for-7 from behind the arc and had a game-high 22 points. Equally important were his zero turnovers, the first time this year he hasn’t turned the ball over.
“I wish I could have gotten a few more assists, but that’s how it works sometimes,” Hollins said.
Meanwhile, junior Austin Hollins hit a trio of 3-pointers, including one late in the second half, and added 17 points for the Gophers. Oto Osenieks also connected from downtown on his only try of the night.
At the end of the night, Minnesota shot 45.5 percent (10-for-22) from 3-point range, easily a season high.
“I don’t think it’s the main priority, but it definitely helps when we’re hitting threes,” Austin Hollins said. “We have been on that side when (other) people are hitting shots. It is discouraging. It’s tough to come back from something like that, especially when you can’t stop it. Andre did a great job in the first half, and I think he was the main factor. He gave us the energy boost we needed.”
While several Gophers were lighting it up from the floor and from downtown, Williams — Minnesota’s leading scorer this season — finished Tuesday’s game with more blocks (3) than points (2). He was 1-of-6 from the field and 0-for-2 from 3-point range, snapping his impressive double-digit scoring streak.
“I just couldn’t find it today,” Williams said. “Everybody has those days, and today was mine.”
His teammates had his back, just like he’s had theirs throughout the early part of this season. And for once, Minnesota’s best threat on offense was the long-range shot.
Often times this year, the Gophers have created points by forcing turnovers and turning them into points. Tuesday, Minnesota created shots from downtown and hit more than it missed and it resulted in yet another victory.
“I’ve said it a lot of times before, we’ve got one of the deepest teams in the Big Ten and in the country right now,” William said. “You never know who’s going to go off on any given night.”