Hollins scores 31 in first Big Ten victory

Freshman guard Nate Mason made his second career start in the game.

Minnesota center Maurice Walker and guard Nate Mason fight for the ball against Rutgers in the first half at Williams Arena on Saturday, January 17, 2015.

Holly Peterson

Minnesota center Maurice Walker and guard Nate Mason fight for the ball against Rutgers in the first half at Williams Arena on Saturday, January 17, 2015.

Jack Satzinger

The last few weeks have been rough for Andre Hollins.

He shot 28 percent or lower in Minnesota’s first five conference games, all of which were losses. Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff hit a game-winning shot in Hollins’ face, and the local media hinted at him being part of the Gophers’ problem.

But on Saturday, Hollins was a major piece of the solution as Minnesota (12-7, 1-5 Big Ten) topped Rutgers 89-80 for its first conference victory of the season.

“I feel like every time we lose, it’s always a question of Andre Hollins, and he does a lot of really good things besides scoring the basketball,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “We were confident … that he would get rolling.”

Hollins came out of the gate firing and made five 3-pointers in the first half. The senior guard didn’t cool off in the second, either, as he finished with a game-high 31 points.

“It felt great to get out of a shooting slump. Obviously, it feels good to win our first game. We’ve just got to keep moving forward,” said Hollins, who spent Friday night practicing his jump shot with assistant coach Kimani Young and fellow senior DeAndre Mathieu.

Freshman guard Nate Mason started alongside Hollins in Minnesota’s backcourt for the second consecutive game, relegating Mathieu to the bench.

After Mason racked up 17 points, four assists and zero turnovers in his first career start last week, he shot 3-for-10 from the floor for 9 points Saturday.

Mathieu finished with 8 points in limited time. 

“I thought he brought a great spark off the bench,” Pitino said of Mathieu. “It’s hard for a kid who [has] started every single game and [to come] off the bench, but he didn’t pout.” 

Pitino said he instituted the lineup change to get bigger, partly because of Minnesota’s rebounding struggles this season. The Gophers lost the rebounding battle again Saturday, 39-28, but Mo Walker racked up nine boards to go along with 16 points.

“It just feels good to be on the other end,” Walker said. “It feels really good to see Andre get rolling.”

The sharpshooting tandem of Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack led Rutgers (10-9, 2-4 Big Ten) with a combined 45 points.

But the Scarlet Knights were also careless with the ball, amassing 19 turnovers to the Gophers’ eight.

“[Pitino’s] defensive scheme forced us to the turnovers we had,” Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan said. “I wouldn’t say all of them, but for the most part, they did what they had to do defensively.”

Carlos Morris was productive for Minnesota at the rim, slashing to the basket for 12 points. But the junior college transfer, who was 0-for-5 from deep, had questionable shot selection at times.

The same has been said of Hollins. But after the string of losses, the face of Minnesota’s program came through and snapped his shooting slump to get the Gophers a much-needed Big Ten victory.

“I’ve been working hard defensively in practice, you know, keeping spirits up and trying to be a good leader — doing all the things I can control,” Hollins said. “Now the shot [is] falling.”