Gophers extend season with overtime win

Andre Hollins had a career-high 25 points as Minnesota likely ended Northwestern’s NCAA tournament dreams.

Gophers senior Ralph Sampson III takes a shot during a game against Nebraska Saturday at William Arena.

Gophers senior Ralph Sampson III takes a shot during a game against Nebraska Saturday at William Arena.

by Charlie Armitz

Playing one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten in a close game with postseason berths on the line, the Gophers needed a leader Thursday against Northwestern.

They found one in Andre Hollins.

The freshman point guard scored a career-high 25 points as the Gophers upset Northwestern 75-68 in overtime in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, Ind.

Hollins scored 13 of Minnesota’s first 15 points and made key buckets down the stretch to force the extra period. His driving layup with 55 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 61-61.

“I had open shots and I just knocked them down, and I’m thankful my teammates passed me the ball,” said Hollins, who didn’t record an assist but made 10 of 17 shots.

Hollins missed a potential game-winner with six seconds left, but in overtime, he and the Gophers broke down Northwestern’s defense time after time to pull ahead.

Julian Welch and Austin Hollins made back-to-back threes to give the Gophers a 68-64 lead, and Andre Hollins hit a jump shot with a minute left to put them up 71-68.

“He’s been [a go-to player] all year,” head coach Tubby Smith said of Andre Hollins. “He’s got the leadership characteristics that you need, and then he has the skill set. He’s got great form on his shot. … He’s gotten better and he showed it tonight.”

Minnesota never played its best team basketball — it finished with 15 assists and 14 turnovers — but it benefitted from Northwestern’s poor shooting in the second half and overtime.

After making nine of 19 3-pointers in the first half, the Wildcats shot 2-for-7 from deep and struggled to make close shots the rest of the way.

Both teams finished 11-for-26 from long range, but the Gophers shot 47 percent overall; Northwestern shot 35 percent.

The Wildcats frustrated the Gophers with a 1-3-1 zone defense in the first half, but they switched back to man-to-man defense in the second half, which seemed to relax Minnesota’s offense.

Austin Hollins and Rodney Williams had 12 points apiece, and center Elliott Eliason had a career-high 11 rebounds in place of Ralph Sampson III, who missed the game with a tweaked knee.

Eliason played well as a starter for a short stretch early in the season when Sampson sat out with an ankle injury.

“We just reminded him of those games early in the season,” Williams said, “and he came out here and he played tough out here for us tonight.”

Minnesota will play No. 2-seeded Michigan on Friday in the quarterfinals.