After a slow start, the Minnesota Gophers pulled out a victory over the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in the NIT Quarterfinals, and earned a trip to Madison Square Garden. After an iffy beginning to the first half, the Gophers were not to be denied for the rest of the game.
The first half slipped away from Southern Miss. They had momentum for most of it, but some big shots by Austin Hollins gave Minnesota a lead at the half. That seemed to suck the life out of the Golden Eagles. They came out flat in the second half, and their normally potent zone defense couldn't maintain proper intensity. Because of that, Minnesota held a lead for the entirely of the second half.
It was a tale of two Hollins' for Minnesota this game. Austin played out of his mind. He had 32 points, including a 6-11 performance from three and 3 steals. He was without a doubt the best player on the court for the entire game. However, Andre struggled offensively. He only scored 5 points, and was a measly 0-5 from behind the arc. However, he realized his limitations and contributed 7 assists to the offensive effort. For Minnesota to continue their NIT run, both Austin and Andre will need to be on their A game. The Gophers can eke out victories with one of them shooting well, but in their next game, they can't have a performance like this again.
Statistically, this game produced some weird results. The Golden Eagles won the rebounding battle 36-23, which is odd considering their tallest starter is 6'7". That should be a sign of concern for the Gophers moving forward. In their semifinal game against either Florida State or Louisiana Tech, they can't get out-rebounded like that again. Elliott Eliason has struggled of late, and he'll need to step up in the semis. Minnesota also shot 90% from the line, whereas Southern Miss shot 60%. That's reassuring, and will bode well for the Gophers in Madison Square Garden.
Although Gopher fans would obviously rather be in the actual NCAA Tournament, a strong performance in the NIT would kick off the Richard Pitino regime with a bang. We'll see how they perform in New York.