MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The shot clock was winding down and Minnesota was clinging to a four-point lead as DeAndre Mathieu, all 5-foot-9 of him, turned the corner and was met by 7-foot-3 Boris Bojanovsky in the paint.
The little guy didn’t back down, and neither did the rest of his teammates against the big guys from Florida State. Mathieu’s windmill layup gave the Golden Gophers a six-point lead and a rare made field goal in a foul-filled slugfest.
Andre Hollins scored 21 points and Mathieu’s big shot proved to be the difference maker in Minnesota’s 71-61 win on Tuesday night.
“I got my shot blocked all night,” Mathieu said. “I was pretty tired of that.”
Austin Hollins added 16 points for the Gophers (7-2), who grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to help them bounce back from a disappointing showing at the Maui Invitational. The Gophers only turned the ball over six times and hit seven 3-pointers to overcome 34 percent shooting.
Okaro White had 16 points and eight rebounds and Ian Miller added 16 points and seven assists off the bench for the Seminoles (5-3). Florida State shot 46.5 percent, but turned the ball over 17 times and missed 10 free throws.
There were 67 foul shots taken and 52 fouls called in the game.
“I don’t really know what to say tonight about all the whistles,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “I really don’t.”
No other Gophers scored in double figures, but they made 28 of 38 free throws to bounce back after losing to Syracuse and Arkansas and struggling with Chaminade in Maui last week.
The game lacked any discernable flow thanks to the constant whistles, with officials clamping down on the clutching and grabbing that many observers believe is squeezing the life out of the college game. Both teams were in the bonus early in each half. Four players fouled out, two on each side.
“Of course it was tough. But you can’t leave it in nobody’s hands,” Miller said. “You can’t leave it in ref’s hands, can’t leave it other team’s, you can’t even leave it in our coach’s hands. We’re the people out on the court playing so we need to make the right plays.”
The Gophers led 52-42 midway through the second half, overcoming woeful shooting with some tough defense and a couple of three-point plays from Mathieu and Oto Osenieks to build the cushion. The Seminoles didn’t even attempt a shot for the first 3:07 of the second half as the turnovers kept coming.
But Florida State hung around, hitting the shots they did take and clamping down on defense themselves to cut it to 57-53 on a lob from Miller to White with under six minutes to g
Then it turned into a foul-shooting contest, and the Seminoles couldn’t quite keep up. When the Gophers desperately needed one shot, Mathieu delivered.
“Just playing at home, playing at the park, always being smaller than everybody else, I had to attack the rim,” he said. “I never really shot jumpshots, so attacking the rim is what I do. I can’t stop if they’re bigger in there. I’ve just got to score over the bigger players.”
The Seminoles have high hopes this season, which appeared to be validated with a convincing victory over VCU and narrow losses to Michigan and Florida late last month. They’re physical, fast in the open court and have a pair of post players in Bojanovsky and Michael Oto who are over 7 feet tall.
The Gophers were giving up size and strength to the Seminoles at virtually every position, so their best chance to hang in there came from behind the 3-point arc. They came out firing, hitting five of their first seven from long range. The Hollinses each hit one during a 12-0 run that gave Minnesota a 23-12 lead midway through the first half.
But Florida State’s defense, undeterred by a closely called game, started to flex its muscle as the half wore on. They squeezed the Gophers and baited them into taking contested jumpers and Miller jumpstarted the team off the bench to help them creep back in it.
The lightning quick senior scored on two coast-to-coast drives and the Seminoles chipped away at the foul line to cut the deficit to six points at halftime.
“Of all of our games that we’ve played,” new Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said, “that was the toughest we’ve played.”
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