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Men's basketball: Gophers advance with win over Penn State

USA TODAY Sports Penn State center Jordan Dickerson tries for a rebound against Minnesota forward Charles Buggs and guard Deandre Mathieu during the first half of their Big Ten tournament game Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

By Marcus R. Fuller

St. Paul Pioneer Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Andre Hollins admitted just for a moment looking past Penn State to the Gophers’ potential quarterfinal opponent in the Big Ten tournament.

He and his teammates were a bit premature with their excitement about possibly playing rival Wisconsin for an opportunity to make the NCAA tournament.

Hollins made sure they’ll get that chance.

The junior guard’s three-pointer from the left corner with 11.7 seconds to play lifted No. 7 seed Minnesota to a 63-56 win Thursday over the No. 11 seed Nittany Lions in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament.

Hollins had just nine points on 3-for-7 shooting while struggling with foul trouble all night. But that clutch jumper overshadowed his poor play, including a couple of missed free throws with less than a minute left.

“Luckily, I was open and I got a chance to redeem myself from the play earlier with my foul trouble,” Hollins said. “You get juiced up when you play Wisconsin. There’s probably going to be a lot of Minnesota and Wisconsin fans that are going to make the trip over here. It’s going to be pretty electric.”

Senior guard Austin Hollins led the Gophers (20-12) with 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting, but it was hard to imagine them advancing without Andre Hollins having one of his typical big-time postseason performances.

The team’s leading scorer had averaged 19.7 points in three career Big Ten tournament games entering Thursday. He scored 28 points and 25 points against UCLA and Florida in the NCAA tournament last year.

Hollins asked Gophers coach Richard Pitino if he could run plays off the pick-and-roll for him at the end of the game.

The Gophers had wanted to keep the ball in the hands of junior point guard DeAndre Mathieu, who finished with 13 points and five assists.

“Andre said to me, I can run a high ball screen, too,” Pitino said. “He kind of got on me a little bit. I said, all right, relax, because just Deandre is so good at it. But you could see he’s so eager to make a play. He doesn’t seem like a fierce competitor because he’s such a smiley, happy kid, but he is as competitive as it gets. He was dying to hit that big shot.”

Hollins wasn’t much of a factor until the waning seconds after Penn State (15-17) used a 26-9 run to cut a 14-point deficit to 59-56 after Brandon Taylor’s two free throws with 44.4 seconds left.

Mathieu gave up the ball to sophomore forward Joey King right at halfcourt with the clock running down.

King didn’t hesitate to look for Hollins spotting up on the left side of the court.

Penn State’s D.J. Newbill, who helped his team rally back with 16 points, was late to close out.

“He does it all the time,” said Mathieu, who finished with 13 points and five assists. “He takes big shots, and he makes big shots. We weren’t surprised. We knew it was good when it left his hands. He’s a big-time player, and big-time players make big-time plays.”

The Gophers beat Penn State for the third time this season and second straight game, but it won’t boost their resume before Selection Sunday. They’ll likely need another signature win today over No. 2 seed Wisconsin (25-6) to receive an at-large NCAA bid.

Entering the postseason, Pitino said he thought his team could earn a spot in the NCAA tournament by just getting to the 20-win mark.

He didn’t back off that stance after Thursday’s game.

“Obviously it’s an issue on everybody’s mind,” Pitino said. “I thought that if we won tonight and things went our way, we could be in. You get to 20 wins, you get a top five strength of schedule in the country, I believe that you’re rewarded when you play a great schedule. That’s normally what happens. But with that being said, we did come in here to win a Big Ten championship. That’s been our goal.”

The Gophers have been to the conference tournament final only once in 2010. They needed to get that far just to get into the NCAA tournament that season.

That isn’t the case this time around, but Andre Hollins hopes he can help carry his team as far as it needs to go.

“You know, this game had a lot of implications, and it’s hard not to ignore it,” he said. “We had to win, and we came out and we took care of business.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.