With a 32-21 lead at the break, Gophers guard Andre Hollins said Minnesota put out a halftime goal to hold Texas A&M Corpus Christi to under 40 points for the game.
The Gophers didn’t do it. But they did cruise to a 65-44 win in what was one of their strongest defensive performances of the season on Saturday night at Williams Arena.
“We’ve picked it up defensively,” Hollins said. “I think we had a really good defensive effort tonight.”
Defensive improvement is something Gophers head coach Richard Pitino has been preaching for weeks.
“He talks about the defense every practice, every film session, halftime of games, before games,” DeAndre Mathieu said. “[He says] Our defensive efficiency rating is not good enough, and we’re not going to be very good if we keep it where it’s at.”
Pitino said when the team came to practice this week, he showed them film of the Miami Heat and their ball-screen defense. He said his team learned from the tape.
It showed on Saturday.
“It seemed like they wanted to take the next step defensively,” Pitino said.
There were also offensive standouts for the Gophers. Andre Hollins scored 18 points for the second straight game and seems to have worked himself out of a mini-offensive slump just in time for the Big Ten slate.
Senior guard Austin Hollins chipped in with 13 points and eight rebounds — the sixth time this season he’s finished with at least eight boards.
But aside from the Hollins duo, Minnesota couldn’t get much else going offensively. The rest of the Gophers shot 11 for 34 from the field (32 percent). The 65 points scored was a season-low.
But on the flip side, the 44 points were the least the Gophers had allowed this year. The Islanders shot 35.4 percent from the field, including a wretched 1 for 15 from beyond the arc.
The defense stepped up on a night when it was needed — a crucial accomplishment as Minnesota wrapped up its nonconference slate.
The Gophers take on Michigan in their Big Ten opener on Thursday.
“In order to do what we want to do in the Big Ten, we have to defend,” Pitino said.
His message appears to have hit home.
“The teams that are cutting down the nets, they take pride in their defense,” Andre Hollins said.