Minnesota defeats No. 20 Iowa with best shooting of season
By Marcus R. Fuller
MINNEAPOLIS — It seemed strange to hear the University of Minnesota student section go crazy with its team trailing Iowa by double digits midway through the first half Tuesday night.
But Charles Buggs gave the fans a reason to cheer.
The redshirt freshman had played just two minutes in Big Ten games and had scored only five points all season.
But Buggs scored 11 of his 13 points to spark a 30-9 first-half run, and Austin Hollins scored 18 of his 27 points in the first half to help the Gophers snatch the momentum for good in a 95-89 victory over No. 20 Iowa in front of a sellout crowd at Williams Arena.
“Buggs brought a lot of energy off the bench,” Hollins said. “That was huge for us. He was a real boost. He knocked down shots, and it was great.”
Hollins and Buggs combined to shoot 10 for 11 from the field in the first half, including 7 for 7 from three-point range, as Minnesota went from an 11-point deficit to 10-point lead.
The Gophers (18-11, 7-9 Big Ten), who had scored 46 and 49 points in back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Illinois, had a 51-47 halftime lead over Iowa. They shot 69 percent from the field in the first half and a season-best 61 percent for the game.
Minnesota struggled mightily offensively during a stretch of eight losses in 12 games but broke out in a big way Tuesday. It was the Gophers’ most points in a Big Ten game since 1993, excluding vacated games from the academic scandal.
“We just worked really hard in practice,” said junior point guard DeAndre Mathieu, who had 19 points and seven assists. “Coach (Richard Pitino) said, ‘Everybody has bad games.’ He just tells us to keep working and stay confident in ourselves.”
It was the unlikeliest of tandems that carried the load early. But Buggs and Hollins kept launching it from long distance. And it kept going in.
Hollins scored 10 of his team’s 11 points during one stretch in the first half.
Iowa (19-8, 8-6) cut it to a 68-66 game early in the second half, but Buggs and Hollins responded with five straight points. Iowa, which clobbered Minnesota by 21 points in Iowa City earlier this year, cut it to 82-80 with 1:30 left on a three-point play from Roy Devyn Marble, who had 24 points.
But the Gophers made 13 of 14 free throws to seal the win in the last minute.
Hollins hadn’t scored in double figures in four of his previous five games, but he hit three free throws to reach 23 points with 11:55 remaining in the second half. That eclipsed his career high.
Pitino pointed out that everyone knew Hollins was struggling, especially after a two-point, three-turnover performance in an embarrassing 64-46 loss at Ohio State on Saturday.
But Hollins remained upbeat and motivated in Sunday’s practice — as did the entire team.
“His attitude was unbelievably positive,” Pitino said. “That normally doesn’t happen when you have a game like that. You go into a shell.”
Pitino called Sunday’s practice the best one of the year on his Twitter account. He also encouraged fans to show up for a critical game against Iowa.
The Gophers dropped off NCAA tournament projections with their eighth loss in 12 games Saturday against Ohio State. But they weren’t that far from climbing back into the mix.
Both ESPN.com and CBSSports.com had Minnesota among their last four teams out of the field. That likely will change after Tuesday’s signature win.
“I never bring up the NCAA tournament,” Pitino said. “We were picked at the bottom of the league. We believe in what we’re doing. We’ve had some games that haven’t been great. We’ve had some games that have been great.”
Pitino said making the NCAA tournament was a goal for this season’s team after he took the job.
“I think that this is a process,” he said. “I love the kids we have. They work hard. They have great attitude.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.