Determined men’s hoops beats Hawaii 84-70 in NIT

Anthony Maggio

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team could have just thrown in the towel. The Gophers could have succumbed to Hawaii’s early hot shooting and exited the National Invitation Tournament in the second round for the third straight season.

But apparently Minnesota didn’t want to exit through the same door it has the last two years.

The Gophers cranked up their intensity and finished the final 11 minutes on a 30-14 run to defeat the Warriors 84-70 in front of 4,311 at Williams Arena on Monday night.

“It was all determination,” center Jerry Holman said. “We showed that we don’t want our season to end just like that. We want to go to New York.”

With the victory, Minnesota advances to the third round of the NIT, and will play the winner of tonight’s contest between Rhode Island and Temple at the victor’s home court.

One more win will earn the Gophers a flight to New York City and Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals.

“You don’t want to look too far ahead, but I think this team has a lot of confidence right now,” guard Ben Johnson said. “We’re excited, and we’re playing better basketball, and that’s definitely going to help us get to the NIT championship.”

From the start, it looked like Hawaii would give Minnesota all it could handle.

When the Warriors’ go-to guy Carl English clanked a three-point try off the front of the rim with 11:03 to play in the first half, it was worthy to note. English’s attempt was Hawaii’s first three to hit the rim all game. The previous four barely touched the bottom of the net – the arc on each befitting the nickname Rainbow Warriors.

Hawaii was 7-of-10 from the three-point line in the first half behind Michael Kuebler’s 5-of-7 shooting from three-point land.

“As I said before the game, they would be hard to guard, and they certainly lived up to that,” coach Dan Monson said. “They put us on our heels right away with our three big guys. We just weren’t able to find guys.”

The Gophers, on the other hand, couldn’t find the basket from behind the arc. Minnesota shot 12.5 percent from three-point land in the half, but used a 28-10 points in the paint advantage to keep the game within four points at halftime.

The Warriors stayed hot to start the second stanza, using a 10-5 run to go up nine points – their biggest lead of the game – three minutes into the half.

But the Gophers turned defensive, holding Hawaii to 20 points for the rest of the game.

“It was effort,” guard Maurice Hargrow said. “The effort was always there, but they were knocking down shots. But we kept digging in, and eventually we got the lead.”

While Hargrow led the charge defensively, checking English for most of the game, he also poured in 22 points to lead all scorers.

Johnson provided a huge lift off the bench for Minnesota, scoring a season-high 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting while supplying tough perimeter defense.

“Ben came up huge in the smaller lineup to help us guard guys,” Monson said. “He played well.”

Rick Rickert scored 12 second-half points on his way to 16, and Jerry Holman rounded out the Gophers in double figures with 14 points.

Kuebler led Hawaii with 20 points and English added 19.

Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]