MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota should be strong in several areas this season.
If the Gophers are going to finally put together that NCAA tournament run their fans have been waiting for since coach Tubby Smith arrived, they’ll need the sharp outside shooting and careful ball-handling they had in this blowout of South Dakota State.
Andre Hollins scored 20 of his 22 points before halftime, swishing his first six 3-point attempts, and No. 14 Minnesota breezed to an 88-64 victory on Tuesday over a South Dakota State team missing star point guard Nate Wolters.
“It’s just the feel of the game and the flow of the game. If I’m hot, coach tells me to shoot the ball,” said Hollins, who had a turnover-free game.
Hollins finished 8 for 9 from the field in 23 minutes for the Gophers (9-1), who reached their highest ranking in the Associated Press poll this week in six years under Smith.
They went 10 for 22 from 3-point range after going just 1 for 13 from behind the arc in Saturday’s win over North Florida. All those extra shots in practice paid off.
“We want to take the 3 when it’s there, but we think we’ve got a very good inside game as well,” Smith said.
Austin Hollins had 17 points, five assists and four steals, Joe Coleman added 15 points and seven rebounds and the Gophers did most of their damage on the perimeter and the fast break to notch their largest winning margin this season.
“We’re all capable of driving. We’re all capable of shooting the shots. So I think that’s what makes it difficult,” Coleman said.
Jordan Dykstra scored 17 points for the Jackrabbits (6-3), who missed Wolters, their standout from nearby St. Cloud whose ankle injury prevented him from playing in his home state for the final time.
Minnesota is 16-0 against South Dakota State since the two schools first met in 1930. The Gophers play at USC on Saturday before wrapping up their nonconference schedule at home against North Dakota State and Lafayette.
They’ll be challenged often in a conference that’s as top heavy as it’s been since Smith arrived from Kentucky, far more than in these December games against mid-major foes. But the Gophers will bring a deep, athletic team that’s clearly growing in confidence.
“I can’t wait until Big Ten play, to see all the students and everybody fill up ‘The Barn,’ so it’s going to be fun,” said Andre Hollins, who heard his name chanted from the crowd after knocking down his sixth 3-pointer.
Minnesota turned the ball over only 13 times, compared to 21 assists, and shot nearly 57 percent from the floor. Not to let the guards get all the attention, Trevor Mbakwe had eight points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
“When they’re able to make shots, it’s easy for us because we don’t have to worry about teams packing it in or double teaming, because they have to respect our outside shooters,” Mbakwe said.
The Gophers started the game by making 11 of their first 17 field goals and began to make this look like a dunk contest in the first half, grabbing nearly every loose ball and turning them into easy fast breaks.
Freshman Jake Bittle, who replaced Wolters in the starting lineup, had five points, seven assists and seven turnovers.
Bittle lost his dribble near midcourt when Austin Hollins and Elliott Eliason converged on him near the 5-minute mark, and Hollins took the ball the other way for an uncontested double-pump dunk to stretch Minnesota’s lead to 30-18.
“We have been on that side. When people are hitting shots, it is discouraging. It’s tough to come back from something like that, especially when you can’t stop it,” Austin Hollins said.
South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy lowered his head and buried it in his hands as soon as Bittle lost the ball. Andre Hollins followed with a 3-pointer on the next possession, off another steal by Austin Hollins.
“I didn’t care what the score was. I just didn’t see us compete like I want us to compete. I told the guys about it. The talk was they believed they could play well and believed they could win, but they didn’t play like it. That was my frustration,” Nagy said.
The Jackrabbits have a 21-game winning streak on their home court, but this four-hour drive from their campus in Brookings was a long way from that comfort.
Without Wolters, they sure missed a lot. The 6-foot-3 senior, who in 2011-12 became just the fifth player in NCAA history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game over a season, could only watch in his warm-ups.
“You wish you were out there, especially the way it went. You want to help your team. It would’ve been a good opportunity for us, but you’ve just got to move on,” said Wolters, who has missed only two games in his career.