MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Andre Hollins spun around after swishing a 3-pointer on the second straight possession, flashing a wide smile as he held up three fingers next to his forehead.
That look, with Minnesota’s lead over Rutgers stretched to 11 at the midpoint of the second half, was a little bit of relief and a lot of enjoyment.
Hollins scored a season-high 31 points on 7-for-10 shooting from 3-point range, a much-needed breakout game for the senior and his struggling team that spurred Minnesota to an 89-80 victory over Rutgers on Saturday, the first Big Ten win for the Golden Gophers.
“Just got to remember this is my last year. You’ve got to have fun with it,” said Hollins, who made just 12 of his 58 field-goal attempts (20.7 percent) over the first five conference games including 8 for 36 from 3-point range.
Mo Walker had 16 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota (12-7, 1-5), which matched its second-in-the-nation season average with 11 steals. That led to 26 points off 19 turnovers by the Scarlet Knights (10-9, 2-4).
“You can’t spot a team 26 points, especially against a team that’s desperate for a win,” Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said.
Carlos Morris added 12 points for the Gophers, who had only eight turnovers and set plenty of effective screens to spring Hollins open all over the floor.
Whether squaring up from the wing or the corner behind the arc or driving toward the lane for a head-fake pull-up jump shot, Hollins was finally back in form after a quiet couple of weeks. This was both the most points he’s scored and 3-point shots he’s made in a Big Ten game in his career. He finished 11 for 18 from the field.
“He’s a very good player and we were confident with him that he would get rolling,” said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, who resisted any temptation to bench Hollins because of his defense and rebounding. “If you’re not making shots, as long as you’re taking good ones, I’m going to roll with you, and Andre was doing so many other things that may not show up in a box score.”
Myles Mack had 26 points and eight assists for Rutgers, which played Minnesota for the first time since 1979.
“He’s a great shooter. They’ve got good screen setters,” Mack said of Hollins.
The rhyming outside-inside tandem of seniors Mack and Kadeem Jack had another productive performance, with Jack finishing with 19 points and five rebounds. Junior Etou added nine points and 10 rebounds and Bishop Daniels scored 13 points.
The Scarlet Knights beat seventh-ranked Wisconsin 67-62 last weekend and had a six-point lead at 14th-ranked Maryland with less than eight minutes left on Wednesday, so they’ve already proven to be a tough Big Ten opponent despite owning the conference’s worst scoring average and shooting percentage.
The Gophers lost four of their first five Big Ten games by five points or fewer, including a 77-75 decision here on Tuesday against Iowa, but confidence can go a long way toward climbing back into relevancy in the conference race.
“I’m happy for these guys because that was a tough couple weeks there,” Pitino said.
Hollins and Nate Mason hit 3-pointers on Minnesota’s first two possessions, and the lead reached 25-12 before the midpoint of the first half. Then the Gophers became stagnant with the ball, while Pitino fiddled with some new lineup combinations, and settled for several contested shots from the perimeter.
Rutgers used a 17-4 run to tie the game for the first time, and during a stretch that lasted a little beyond that surge by the Scarlet Knights Morris took nine of 14 shots by the Gophers. But Hollins swished a pair of 3-pointers in the final 2 minutes before the break to give them a bit more space.
“They could be 4-1, they played so well in every game,” Jordan said of the Gophers.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights averaged only 55.6 points over their first five Big Ten games. This was the first time they reached 80 points all season.
Minnesota: Mason, the freshman, started at point guard for the second straight game ahead of senior DeAndre Mathieu. Mason shot just 3 for 10 from the field, but he had five steals, five assists and just one turnover. Mathieu finished with eight points and three assists.
Rutgers owned a 39-28 rebounding edge, further exposing Minnesota’s size disadvantages in the post. Pitino played freshman Bakary Konate for 17 minutes ahead of Elliott Eliason, acknowledging the need to develop the frontcourt for next season when Walker and Eliason will be gone.
Rutgers hosts Michigan on Tuesday.
Minnesota visits Nebraska on Tuesday.
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