Gophers defeat New Orleans at home

Minnesota had six players in double figures in the 80-65 victory Sunday.

Minnesota guard Austin Hollins dunks the ball against New Orleans on Saturday at Williams Arena.

Holly Peterson

Minnesota guard Austin Hollins dunks the ball against New Orleans on Saturday at Williams Arena.

Jace Frederick

A series of injuries put the Gophers’ depth to the test Saturday in a matchup with New Orleans at Williams Arena.

They passed.

Minnesota (8-2) finished with six players in double digits and rolled to an 80-65 win over the Privateers
(1-4).

That dispersed production came at a necessary time — both Malik Smith and Elliott Eliason sustained left-ankle injuries heading into the game. Eliason played just four minutes, and Smith didn’t touch the court.

“Guys [were] just coming out and stepping up,” junior guard DeAndre Mathieu said. “We’re going to need that throughout the rest of the season.”

Mo Walker poured in his second double-digit scoring performance of the season, scoring 11 points and grabbing eight rebounds. It was the first career start for the junior center, who stepped in for the injured Eliason.

“[It was] a little nerve-racking at first,” Walker said, “but once I got out there and got a few points and stuff, I really got into the flow of the game [and] felt comfortable.”

Senior guard Austin Hollins scored 13 points and provided the highlight of the afternoon. His one-handed dunk on a lob from Mathieu brought the Barn to its loudest volume of the game.

“Austin jumps out the gym,” Mathieu said.

Hollins said it helps get the crowd going, but the team needs to provide its own energy in games.

“That’s something that we lacked for part of the game — energy,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job of that when we come into the game … [and] just staying focused for 40 minutes.”

That lack of focus showed in the turnover department for the Gophers. While Minnesota forced 17 turnovers, it had 16 giveaways of its own — a stark contrast to its six-turnover performance in a win over Florida State on Tuesday.

“We were just sloppy,” Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said. “I thought we took a couple risks that we didn’t need to take.”

The sloppiness started on the Gophers’ first play of the game, when Mathieu fired a pass to junior guard Andre Hollins, who wasn’t looking. The pass was sent out of bounds, and Pitino sent Hollins to the bench.

“It was just a mental lapse,” Hollins said. “It caught my attention because that was my fault.”

Hollins responded to lead the team with 18 points.

The Gophers had issues with putting forward complete efforts earlier in the season, but the problem hadn’t surfaced again until Saturday.

Minnesota outscored the Privateers 41-23 in the first half but was outscored 42-39 in the final 20 minutes. New Orleans trimmed the Gophers’ lead to single digits late in the second half.

“We’ve earned the right to have a little bit of confidence out there, and I didn’t see that today,” Pitino said.

The Gophers take on South Dakota State on Tuesday.

Pitino said he’s hopeful Eliason will be able to play in that matchup but said Smith’s injury appears more severe.

“He seems pretty banged up,” Pitino said. “[And] rest is the biggest thing for him.”