Hollins scores 31 points, leads Gophers to first Big Ten win

Gophers guard Andre Hollins scored a season-high 31 points in Minnesota's win over Rutgers on Saturday.

MINNEAPOLIS — Andre Hollins doesn’t dunk much. He came into Saturday’s game against Rutgers with just seven dunks in his four-year career at Minnesota.

It’s even rarer for Hollins to dunk in traffic. In fact, he can’t recall the last time he did that in a game. So when the Gophers guard took off and threw down a dunk early in the first half, it appeared as if the senior was poised for a big game.

Sure enough, Hollins hit his shots early and often and finished the game with a season-high 31 points, helping the Gophers top the Scarlet Knights by an 89-80 final. Perhaps more importantly, Minnesota is now in the win column in the Big Ten after starting out 0-5 in conference play.

"It felt great to get out of a shooting slump," said Hollins, who was previously 12 for 58 in his first five Big Ten games. "Obviously it feels good to win our first game. We’ve just got to keep moving forward now."

It was evident early that Hollins was back to his normal self, something that was much needed for both he and the Gophers. Hollins opened the scoring with a 3-pointer in the corner, and freshman Nate Mason scored to put Minnesota up 6-0 out of the gates.

That’s when the telltale sign that Hollins was back took place. As he dribbled at the top of the key, Hollins saw a wide-open lane to the basket. Instead of pulling up for a shot or laying it up at the rim, Hollins flushed home a dunk — just the eighth of his career.

"I was a little surprised," said Gophers center Mo Walker. "He had the lane wide open. I didn’t think he was going to dunk it. I thought he was going to lay it up, but he dunked it. I was shocked."

During Hollins’ recent struggles, there were questions about his health as many tried to figure out why the Gophers’ senior was slumping. Hollins battled turf toe earlier in the year but has said for the last several games that his toe was no longer an issue.

Gophers 89, Scarlet Knights 80

His dunk early in Saturday’s game proved that.

"I’m not hurt at all," Hollins said. "I’ve just got to get going early and get loose before the games, get more focused. You have to buckle down and work even harder when things aren’t going your way."

Hollins continued to prove he’s healthy as the game wore on. Following the dunk, he hit a 3-pointer that put the Gophers up 19-8. Hollins went on to hit a few more threes in the first half (5 of 7) en route to 17 first-half points. That gave Minnesota a 42-37 lead as the Gophers headed into the locker room.

But Hollins was far from done. The senior guard hit a floater in the lane for his first bucket of the second half, and another jumper gave him 21 points for the game. Perhaps the two biggest shots Hollins hit all game came after Rutgers trimmed Minnesota’s lead to 60-55 midway through the second half.

Hollins answered a 3-pointer by Scarlet Knights guard Myles Mack with back-to-back 3s of his own — the second of which put Minnesota up 66-55. Hollins finished the game by tying a career high for 3-pointers made with seven, needing 10 attempts to do so.

Two late free throws pushed Hollins over the 30-point plateau for just the second time in his career. The other instance was his 41-point effort against Memphis during his sophomore season.

When Minnesota desperately needed a win Saturday, Hollins emerged for his best game of the season and one of the best games of his career.

"I feel like every time we lose, there’s always a question of Andre Hollins," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said after Saturday’s win. "He does a lot of really good things besides scoring the basketball. He’s a very good player. We were confident with him that he would get rolling."

During Hollins’ recent struggles — which included shooting nights of 2 for 10 against Purdue, 1 of 9 at Maryland, 3 for 13 in a loss to Ohio State, 4 for 14 versus Michigan and 2 for 12 against Iowa — Pitino could have benched the senior guard to perhaps shake up things. But Pitino said Saturday that Hollins hasn’t taken bad shots; they just haven’t been falling.

Saturday against Rutgers, those shots finally fell. Hollins finished 11 of 18 from the floor. For comparison, he made a total of 12 shots in his first five Big Ten games combined.

"I came in and got some shots up last night with coach Kimani (Young) and (DeAndre Mathieu)," Hollins said. "We were just focused. We knew we have to get every win we can, starting off so bad."

After the second of Hollins’ back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half, he ran back to the other end of the court with a smile on his face. There hasn’t been much to smile about for Hollins or the Gophers lately, but he gave his team — and himself — a reason to grin in Saturday’s win.

A meeting with former teammate Austin Hollins over the New Year’s break helped remind Andre Hollins that, no matter what happens, having fun should still be a priority.

"He told me, ‘You’ve just got to have fun, have no regrets,’" Andre Hollins said. "I’ve just got to remember, it’s my last year. You’ve got to have fun."

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