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Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Andre Hollins, right, is guarded by Wisconsin Badgers guard Ben Brust in a quarterfinal of the Big Ten Conference tournament March 14 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Hollins is averaging a team-high 13.8 points a game this season. USA TODAY Sports

Trip to Madison Square Garden at stake for Gopher men

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Trip to Madison Square Garden at stake for Gopher men
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A ticket to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals is at stake when Southern Mississippi visits Minneapolis on Tuesday to face Minnesota. Both teams have been impressive in the tournament, with the Golden Eagles topping Toledo and Missouri and the Golden Gophers handling High Point and Saint Mary’s.

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Southern Mississippi snapped Missouri’s 82-game non-conference home winning streak, so it won’t be intimidated by the home crowd behind the Gophers. Both teams are helping their national image, especially Southern Mississippi, which has tied the school record for wins in a season with 29.

Richard Pitino was hoping to join his famous father, Rick, in the NCAA tournament in his first season at the helm in Minnesota, but a deep run in the NIT helps the young coach get some postseason experience. With just seven seniors combined on the two rosters, a lot of players are getting postseason experience that should benefit both teams in the future.

ABOUT SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (29-6): Winning on the road has become a point of pride for Southern Mississippi coach Donnie Tyndall, who believes his team can win anywhere. Tyndall says the positive experience at Missouri could be a factor.

“They will be similar to Missouri, long and athletic,” Tyndall said. “It will be a tough place to play. It is going to be another tough challenge but we have won 11 true road games and 14 times away from home. So we’re going to try to do it one more time.”

ABOUT MINNESOTA (22-13): The Golden Gophers certainly could have looked at playing in the NIT as a consolation prize, but instead, they’ve embraced the challenge of winning the tournament.

“I understand the NIT is tough for everybody because the ultimate goal is to make the NCAA tournament,” Pitino told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“But I just thought these guys, you could tell they really want to keep playing. We’re excited for Tuesday night.”

TIP-INS

Southern Mississippi G Chip Armelin played his first two seasons at Minnesota before transferring to Southern Miss following the 2011-12 season.

Minnesota is 5-2 all-time in the NIT quarterfinals, winning its last four appearances.

Tyndall’s 56 victories in two seasons are the most for a Southern Miss coach in consecutive seasons since the school joined Division I prior to the 1972-73 season.

PREDICTION

Minnesota 78, Southern Mississippi 72

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