Gophers sneak past High Point

Jace Frederick

A loss would have ended the Gophers season.

Senior Maverick Ahanmisi wasn’t about to let that happen. 

Ahanmisi dropped a career-high 21 points as No. 1 Minnesota defeated High Point 88-81 on Tuesday night at Williams Arena.

Ahanmisi was an unlikely candidate to make a huge impact, to say the least. He’d scored just fifty points all season and didn’t see the court in nine games this season.

But with the Gophers star out and the season — and the end of his collegiate career — on the line, he stepped up.

“I was happy for him,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “You can see he wants to keep playing.”

That was a question for Minnesota heading into the week. After missing out on the NCAA Tournament, how badly did it want to play in th NIT.

Those questions lingered throughout the game. With less than 4,000 in attendance at Williams Arena, the bouncing of the ball was at times the most audible sound in the gym as  High Point, the Big South regular season champion, hung around all evening.

But the Gophers made enough plays to escape with the victory.

“We found a way to get it done,” Ptinio said. “The first one is always the toughest.”

Getting an unimpressive victory over a small school may not seem like much, but it’s more than some teams can say. Top-seeded St. John’s was bounced by Robert Morris by 11 points on Tuesday night.

“It [shows] that we love this game,” said junior center Mo Walker, who chipped in 13 points. “We want to play regardless of who it is, where it is, we want to play. We want to continue playing for as long as possible this season.”

Ahanmisi’s presence became a must when junior guard DeAndre Mathieu went down with a right hip injury. 

Mathieu suffered the injury in the first half when he was sent to the ground on a transition layup attempt. He said it was a re-aggravation of an injury he suffered earlier this season against Wisconsin. 

Mathieu attempted to start the second half, but appeared to be in pain. Pitino pulled him shortly after and he didn’t return. 

Mathieu said he could have continued to go if needed and should be ready to play when the Gophers hit the court for the second round on Sunday.

“[Mathieu’s] been the heart and soul of our team, so Mav was big for us,” Pitino said. “Twenty-one points, it’s got to be a career high, which is great for him. We did a lot of really good things.”

One of those things was taking care of the basketball. Minnesota played the first 25 minutes without a turnover en route to committing just six turnovers.

“I looked at the stat sheet and I was like, ‘This has got to be wrong,’” Pitino said. “So yeah, that was big. We talked about that just taking the next step forward as a team, taking care of the ball is so important.”

Still, the Gophers will likely need to many more good things, and play a lot better, to continue their run and make a trip to New York for the NIT final four.