THE LEAD - Gophers broke away from their script this year and pulled away from an opponent down the stretch and beat Illinois 79-71. The second half version of the Gophers is exactly the team we have been expecting to see. Deandre Mathieu playing fast yet under control leading to great offensive opportunities for his teammates. The five Gophers on the floor playing great pressure defense. Andre Hollins making open shots and racking up a lot of points. Mo Walker active on the boards and in the paint. And it all comes together to pull away from a decent team on our home floor.
THE STAT - Gophers finally made their free throws. Coming into the game the Gophers ranked last in the Big Ten in conference game free throw percentage at 61.7%. It has clearly hurt this team in a few games but today they hit 74% making 20 of 27. Rebounding, particularly the difference from the first half to the second was also very important but making their free throws throughout the game and particularly down the stretch was important today.
TURNING POINT - Tied 44-44 with 11:55 remaining Andre Hollins hits a three as fouled, makes the free throw which sparked a 12-0 run for the Gophers. Deandre Mathieu was the catalyst during the run able to penetrate and find guys at will. Drive and dish to Buggs for a dunk. Penetration as shot-clocked expired, missed floater that was put-back by Mo Walker. Fast-break bounce pass to Andre Hollins for a lay-up. He was finding guys, he was moving fast yet under control This is the Matthieu we knew and loved.
HOT - Hollins had a very nice game scoring 28 points and hitting 5-7 from behind the arc. When Hollins is hitting shots, this offense is dramatically more efficient. I don't think it is as simple as saying, "as Hollins goes, so goes this team" but he certainly helps. Today he was hitting open shots and making good decisions. Hollins scoring allows Matthieu to be more of a facilitator while dramatically improving Minnesota's spacing.
NOTABLE: The lineup of Hollins, Mathieu, Mason, Buggs, and Walker was dominant in the second half. That lineup sparked a major run in the second half. They should play much more together.
UP NEXT - A trip to Penn State on Wednesday looking for their first road win of the season.