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Gophers waver, but hold on 72-56

It seemed like a bad dream for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team Saturday; it couldn’t be happening again.

Just four days after the team blew a 14-point lead to Florida State and lost 70-69, it looked as if Minnesota might blow the same 14-point advantage against Holy Cross.

“It was almost like deja vu,” said freshman Rico Tucker, who scored a career-high 15 points, thanks largely to 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range. “We just knew what to do this time.”

Minnesota (3-3) held on to beat Holy Cross (3-2) 72-56 in front of an announced crowd of 9,185 Saturday at Williams Arena.

Junior Vincent Grier led the Gophers with 19 points.

The Gophers held a 14-point lead late in the first half, but it was cut to eight after Pat Doherty’s three-pointer splashed in for the Crusaders with less than eight minutes gone in the second half.

And after a turnover and foul by Minnesota senior Jeff Hagen, Holy Cross had a chance to narrow it to six.

But Tim Clifford’s attempts clanged off the rim, punctuating the Crusaders’ poor free-throw shooting (3-of-10).

Meanwhile, the Gophers stood out from the line, hitting 20-of-28 attempts.

“Missing those two free throws when we had a chance to cut it to six was just huge,” Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said. “But it’s pretty tough to win when a team shoots 63 percent from the field.”

Part of the problem for Willard’s Crusaders squad was the Gophers’ inside game. The Gophers scored 38 points in the paint, led by Hagen, who had 12, and freshman Spencer Tollackson, who scored seven in his first career start.

Tollackson’s energy was evident from the opening tip, but it did not help Minnesota much early on, as the team fell behind by four.

But then, Minnesota’s defense showed up. Minnesota held Holy Cross scoreless for six minutes and 42 seconds, reeling off 17 unanswered points to take a 29-16 lead.

From there on, the closest the game ever got was the aforementioned eight-point differential.

And when that happened, senior Brent Lawson scored seven of the Gophers’ next 17 points to help the team pull away and extend the lead to 15 at 60-45.

Six minutes and 12 points later, Minnesota coach Dan Monson was glowing.

“I love this team,” Monson said. “I’ve had more fun with these guys than with the last five years combined. They play hard every night and know what they do well.”

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