Hollins shines, Gophers beat PSU

Minnesota got a much-needed win over the Nittany Lions on Sunday.

Senior guard Austin Hollins dribbles against Penn State at Williams Arena on Sunday.  Minnesota beat Penn State 81-63.

Senior guard Austin Hollins dribbles against Penn State at Williams Arena on Sunday. Minnesota beat Penn State 81-63.

Jace Frederick

The Gophers needed this win, and with the way they played Sunday afternoon, it was clear they knew it.

Minnesota (19-12, 8-10 Big Ten) trounced Penn State 81-63 at Williams Arena.

Gophers coach Richard Pitino said his players were eager to get back on the court after a week off.

They looked ready to play early.

Minnesota jumped up a commanding 20-3 lead and wasn’t tested much the rest of the game.

Still, much of the talk in the locker room after the game centered on what lies ahead for this team.

“We’re looking to get five in a row, and that’s one down,” junior guard Andre Hollins said. “Now it’s our next step.”

That next step is the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis this week.

The Gophers’ victory Sunday locked them into the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten tournament, setting up a first-round matchup Thursday with — of course —Penn State (15-16, 6-12).

It’ll be the third meeting between the two teams this season. Minnesota swept the two regular-season encounters.

“It’s tough to beat a team so many times in a row,” junior center Mo Walker said. “It’s going to be challenging to beat them a third time in the Big Ten tournament.

“They’re going to scout us a little better and prepare for us a little better.”

Minnesota needs one or two wins in the Big Ten tournament to earn an NCAA tournament berth.

Minnesota was dominant on the offensive end against the Nittany Lions, and five different players finished in double figures. The Gophers shot 55 percent from the field.

That type of scoring balance should favor Minnesota moving forward.

“That really gives us confidence,” senior guard Austin Hollins said. “The guys are playing at a high level, and that’ll be huge for the Big Ten tournament.”

Minnesota’s 18-point win over Penn State was its largest margin of victory in the Big Ten this season.

It might have been one of its best performances. It was definitely one of its most complete.

The Gophers jumped on the Nittany Lions from the tip and never let their foot off the pedal.

It’s clear that they’ve matured.

“At this point, we have grown,” Austin Hollins said. “We’re improving in all areas, but there’s still room for improvement. We’re going to work hard this week.”

Heading into the Big Ten tournament, the Gophers’ goal seems clear.

“I’m just looking forward to the tournament — I know everything’s going to turn up at least two notches,” junior guard DeAndre Mathieu said. “We’re going to hopefully win this thing.”

Gophers seniors celebrated

Sunday was senior night at Williams Arena, and Malik Smith, Austin Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi and junior forward Oto Osenieks were all honored before and after the game.

They honored themselves during the game as well.

Austin Hollins asserted himself on both ends of the court, scoring 14 points and nabbing three steals.

Maverick Ahanmisi, who hadn’t played much throughout the season, delivered when given the opportunity. He tied a career-high with 13 points on 4-for-6 shooting.

“It was fun to end my career with a bang like that,” he said.

Osenieks won’t be playing next year because of a knee injury. He hadn’t played in two games, as even running and jumping pained his knee. But he made it onto the court, running down the floor one time and drawing a standing ovation from the crowd.

While Sunday was the seniors’ last regular-season game, Austin Hollins pointed out that there’s a lot of season left.

“We don’t want to stop here,” Hollins said after the game to the crowd. “We’ve got big goals for the future.”