MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Mo Walker had 15 points, five rebounds and five blocks, helping Minnesota escape with a 69-51 victory Saturday over a pesky University of Maryland-Baltimore County squad.
Playing in their third game in five days, the Gophers (3-1) eventually overcame a poor shooting start to live up to their heavy-favorite billing against the Retrievers (0-3). Walker and Andre Hollins, who finished with 12 points, led a 15-6 run before intermission and Minnesota never looked back after missing 13 of its first 19 shots.
Walker and Hollins hit the first two shots out of halftime to pad the lead as the Gophers outscored the Retrievers 37-25 in the second half.
But it didn’t look like it would be that easy.
Hollins hit three 3’s, with his first rattling around the rim and falling in to foreshadow a brief stretch of cold shooting.
The Gophers fell behind 13-9 out of the gate despite forcing five turnovers on the Retrievers’ first eight possessions. UMBC hit the first five shots, led by a career-high 16 points from Wayne Sparrow, who hit four consecutive first-half buckets — including a mid-range jumper to give the Retrievers their last lead at 18-17.
Five Gophers scored at least eight points, with Carlos Morris pitching in nine — including a three-pointer that stretched Minnesota’s lead to 43-32 in the second half. Tempers flared briefly, with Walker being called for a technical on his fourth block after delivering some choice words for the failed shooter. The Gophers found themselves in early foul trouble as Hollins, DeAndre Mathieu and Nate Mason picked up two fouls apiece in the first half, leaving Gophers coach Richard Pitino to shuffle his backcourt early.
Mason scored eight, including a teardrop layup on his first possession in the game to stop a three-minute scoreless streak for Minnesota. Mathieu scored eight and struggled around the rim, but finished with eight assists and five rebounds.
Tired legs carried the Gophers through Saturday night’s win after blowing out back-to-back non-conference opponents by an average of 37 points, including a 52-point win on Thursday over Franklin Pierce – the third-largest margin in school history.
The Retrievers were without budding guard Rodney Elliott (injury) for the second straight game; Elliott was the America East Conference Rookie of the Year in 2013-14, UMBC’s first in 11 seasons.
The Gophers play St. John’s to start a four-team tournament on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York. Gonzaga also plays Georgia, with the winners facing each other on Friday.
After a three-game road trip to open the season, the Retrievers return home to host the Howard Bison on Tuesday.
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