Minnesota fends off Illinois, 79-71

Gophers guard Deandre Mathieu (4) shoots in the first half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Williams Arena on Saturday afternoon.  

Brad Rempel/Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Andre Hollins has his jump shot in prime form again, just in time to try to salvage Minnesota’s season and his senior year.

Hollins helped Minnesota pull away with 17 of his 28 points in the second half, fueling a 79-71 victory Saturday over Illinois.

"I think more than anything Andre is kind of realizing that the clock is ticking, and he’s going to make the most of this," coach Richard Pitino said.

Hollins finished 10 for 15 from the field, including 5 for 7 from 3-point range, and had five assists for the Golden Gophers (13-8, 2-6 Big Ten). Carlos Morris had 13 of his 16 points in the first half, Mo Walker chipped in 12 points and 13 rebounds and Nate Mason added 10 points and six assists.

"I never lost confidence. I just knew I was in a bad slump. I just had to get some rhythm," said Hollins, who has 80 points in his last three games.

Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn each scored 18 points for the depleted Fighting Illini (13-8, 3-5), who played their third game in the last seven days. Jaylon Tate added 11 points and nine assists, but the Illini ran out of steam down the stretch with a rotation that’s only seven deep right now.

"We have no excuses. We play five. They play five. Our guys got to man up. That’s why they do conditioning. They’ve got to figure it out," Illini coach John Groce said.

This was only the third loss by the Illini in their last 14 visits to Williams Arena since 2000, the first under Groce.

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"We were tough for half the game, but we know in this league you’ve got to be tough during the whole game," Tate said.

That includes making possessions more difficult for the opposition, especially when a guy like Hollins gets in a groove. The most impressive part of his production over these past eight days has been an ability to catch and shoot from anywhere on the court as well as take the ball into the lane and score.

"I knew he could score. That’s why when he was going through that tough stretch, I knew he was fine," said teammate DeAndre Mathieu, who returned to the starting lineup at point guard with the freshman Mason again in a reserve role.

The Gophers outrebounded the Illini 38-30 and held them to 6-for-26 shooting from inside the arc to start the game. Hill and Nunn helped the Illini stay close with a series of long-range swishes, but they were done in by sloppy ball-handling during the decisive 17-2 run by the Gophers as well as an energy fade on the boards.

"That’s on us. You can control conditioning and your mental toughness and your ability to push through those things," Groce said.

The 6-foot-2 Hollins soared to block Hill’s attempt at a dunk from the low post with the Gophers leading by one, and a few minutes later he swished another one behind the arc to tie the game at 41. Until the Gophers started their surge, neither team led by more than four points.

But there was Hollins hitting another 3-pointer with 5:56 left to put the Gophers up 61-46 and produce that familiar wide smile on the senior’s face.