Gophers ride balanced offense to win over New Orleans

by Jace Frederick

The Gophers' depth was tested on Saturday in Minnesota's matchup with New Orleans.

It passed.

Six Gophers finished in double-digits as Minnesota rolled to a 80-65 win the Privateers.

The dispersed production came at a necessary time. Both Malik Smith and Elliott Eliason were hobbled heading into the game with left-ankle injuries. Eliason played just four minutes, while 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.”

It was the second double-digit scoring performance of the season for junior center Mo Walker. Walker scored 11 points and had eight rebounds in his first career start as he stepped in for the injured Eliason.

“[It was] a little nerve-wracking 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 finish on a lob from DeAndre Mathieu pushed the barn to its loudest volume of the day. 

“Austin jumps out the gym,” Mathieu said. 

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

“Sometimes it’s going to be a little dead in there and we need to bring our own energy,” Hollins said. “That’s something that we lacked for part of the game — energy. We’ve got to do a better job of that when we come into the game … just staying focused for 40 minutes.”

The lack of focus showed in the turnover department. While Minnesota forced 17 turnovers,  the Gophers had 16 giveaways of their own — a stark contrast to their 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 Gophers had issues with putting forth 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. The Gophers lead was trimmed to single digits late in the second half.

“I thought we just didn’t play with a whole lot of confidence out there, a whole lot of energy,” Pitino said. “We’ve earned the right to have a little bit of confidence out there and I didn’t see that today.”

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. “Just rest is the biggest thing for him.”