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Hollins stars as Gophers finish 5th in Bahamas

Sophomore point guard Andre Hollins scored 61 points as Minnesota went 2-1.
Minnesota guard Andre Hollins makes a basket during a game against Minnesota State on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, at Williams Arena.
Image by Mark Vancleave, File Photo
Minnesota guard Andre Hollins makes a basket during a game against Minnesota State on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, at Williams Arena.

When opportunity knocked at the Gophers’ door, Andre Hollins answered it with a smile.

The sophomore point guard scored 61 points in three games — including 41 against his hometown team, Memphis — to lead the Gophers men’s basketball team to a fifth-place finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.

Minnesota lost to eventual Atlantis champion and fifth-ranked Duke 89-71 in the opening round Thursday, but it rebounded Friday by upsetting No. 19 Memphis 84-75.

The Gophers avoided a let-down Saturday and beat Stanford, the team that stomped Minnesota in the National Invitation Tournament final last season.

Hollins hit three free throws in the final second after he was fouled on a half-court shot, giving Minnesota a 66-63 win.

With the score tied at 63-63, the Gophers nearly turned the ball over on their final possession with an errant pass. But they recovered it in the back court in time for Hollins to throw up a desperation shot with 0.4 seconds left.

“I was hollering at him to shoot it, because you never know,” Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said in a release. “It might go in, you might get fouled. This time he got fouled.”

In a tournament full of story lines, perhaps none was greater than Hollins’ performance against his hometown school.

The Memphis native hit all five three-point shots he tried and shot 12-for-16 from the floor en route to 41 points in the Gophers’ win Friday. All other Minnesota players combined for 43 points against the Tigers.

“It was pretty much just give him the ball and see what happens,” senior Rodney Williams said in a release. “He had the hot hand, so we kept giving it to him.”

His 41 points are more than any Minnesota player has scored in 41 years.

“It was a great feeling to do that against guys who I’ve known since I was 9 years old,” Hollins said in a release. “I just had the hot hand [Friday], and I was feeling it.”

Hollins teamed with Tigers point guard Joe Jackson at White Station High School in Memphis, Tenn., and began playing Amateur Athletic Union basketball with Memphis guard Chris Crawford when he was 9.

Hollins shot 46 percent from the floor in the tournament, including 7-for-14 from deep.

While the jumpers fell for Hollins against Memphis, his 91 percent free throw shooting helped secure two wins for his team.

He shot just 1-for-8 from the field against Stanford, but that didn’t stop him from hitting four free throws in the last minute and a half. He finished the game 7-for-8 from the free throw line.

As impressive as Minnesota looked in two games, it’s far from an elite team, and Duke showed that Thursday.

The Gophers had no answer for the Blue Devils’ Mason Plumlee, who had a double-double by halftime of Minnesota’s first-round loss.

The senior big man finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds as he easily maneuvered around Elliott Eliason, Trevor Mbakwe and anyone else Smith tried to put on him.

“We tried to be physical and keep the ball from him, but he’s just a real talented player,” Smith said in a release. “And when you’ve got talent, sometimes the best game plan doesn’t work. It didn’t work [Thursday].”

The Gophers’ bench out-scored Duke 28-2, but Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski had too much talent in his starting five for Minnesota to overcome.

The 28 bench points, including Maverick Ahanmisi’s 10 points and Mbakwe’s 11 points, are good signs for a team that Smith has praised for having depth.

The team’s star but not yet starter, Mbakwe, had his best game of the season against Stanford.

The sixth-year senior had team-highs in points (19) and rebounds (12) for his first double-double since Nov. 24, 2011.

While Mbakwe struggled defensively, he dominated the paint on offense down the stretch, operating out of the post and on the offensive glass.

Eliason continued to start at center, but the sophomore played only 12 minutes to Mbakwe’s 24 minutes against Stanford.

“It’s been a very competitive tournament, probably the toughest that’s being played anywhere this year in college basketball,” Smith said in the release about the Battle 4 Atlantis. “It’s definitely good to get two wins out of this.”

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