MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Austin Hollins and his Minnesota teammates were in one of those familiar February slumps.
They fueled all that frustration into their finest shooting performance of the season, and No. 20 Iowa had the misfortune of being in the way.
Hollins scored a career-high 27 points on 8-for-10 shooting, DeAndre Mathieu had 19 points and seven assists and the Gophers bounced back with a 95-89 victory Tuesday night.
The Gophers (18-11, 7-9 Big Ten) had lost six of their previous eight games.
“Guys didn’t let that affect them. They were really motivated to work and get better and come out here and get this win,” said Hollins, who went 4 for 6 from 3-point range and 7 for 7 from the free throw line.
The Gophers, who posted their biggest score of the season and their highest non-overtime conference game since 1995, made 13 of their last 14 free throws over the final 70 seconds. Charles Buggs came off the end of the bench to score a career-high 13 points despite bringing only five points in 21 career minutes into the game.
“We believe in what we’re doing. We’ve had some games that haven’t been great. We’ve had some games that have been great. Tonight was a great one,” coach Richard Pitino said.
Roy Devyn Marble had only five of his 24 points in the second half for the Hawkeyes (19-8, 8-6), who have their first two-game losing streak of the season. All six of their previous defeats were by teams currently ranked in the top 22 of the latest Associated Press poll.
Aaron White added 21 points, and Josh Oglesby scored 16 in his first start of the season with Melsahn Basabe held out because of an illness.
After managing just 54, 49 and 46 points in each of their last three games, the Gophers snapped to life with a 51-point first half. Needing another win over a top team like this badly to reboot their NCAA tournament bid, they posted their season-high score while shooting 30 for 49 from the field (61.2 percent).
Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffrey wasn’t all that upset.
“We can blame our defense if we want to, but at some point you have to respect your opponent and say, ‘You know what? Richard had a good game plan. They executed it. They moved it. They got open, and they made the shots. More power to ’em,'” McCaffrey said.
The Hawkeyes fell into a fifth-place tie in the conference with Nebraska, which plays last-place Illinois on Wednesday. Without Basabe, they have missed another big body to help patrol the paint. Their defense has been missing that edge.
“We’re not as crisp as we were a couple games ago,” White said. “I don’t know what’s the reason behind it, but we’ve got to figure it out because that’s where you have to hang your hat and that’s how you win games.”
The Gophers led 80-67 with 8:23 left and didn’t make another field goal the rest of the game. Marble tipped in a missed layup by Mike Gesell and was pushed in the back by Joey King in the process with 1:30 left, converting the three-point play to cut the lead to 82-80.
But Mathieu followed with two free throws and Oglesby air-balled a 3-point attempt after that. Mo Walker made all four of his free throws in the final minute, and the Gophers locked the game up at the line.
With the game at Indiana rescheduled for Thursday, the Hawkeyes were forced into a stretch of three contests in six days.
“It’s a quick turnaround. That’s the beauty of basketball. You have a tough night like this and you get another chance to prove yourself right away,” Gesell said.
Hollins swished a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 35-31 and then turned a steal into a fast break. He grabbed the rebound of Malik Smith’s miss and, almost directly underneath the basket with a defender in front him, deftly underhanded the ball in off the backboard to bring the Gophers within two points.
Hollins, in his previous four games, totaled just 24 points with 11 turnovers and 2-for-10 shooting from 3-point range. His previous high in a conference game this season was 18 points against Purdue on Jan. 5.
“He’s a special kid. A lot of young college kids would crawl into a shell when they’re not playing well,” Pitino said. “He believes in hard work, he believes that he’s going to come around, and he showed that tonight.”
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