Steady Austin Hollins sparks blowout win and collects 1,000th point
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
MINNEAPOLIS - On Tuesday night at Williams Arena, the Golden Gophers had to be dealing with a sense of déjà vu.
After all, it was just Saturday afternoon when the Gophers had dispatched of feisty New Orleans (RPI: 146). It was a sleepy, sloppy 40 minutes against an overmatched foe in a half-filled arena on a day where it was apparent that most people in attendance - including the players - would rather have spent the previous two hours just about anywhere else on the planet.
"This was one of those games where we have to bring our own energy," senior swingman Austin Hollins told a reporter after the game.
A nearly identical scenario played out on Tuesday, as the Gophers kept scrappy South Dakota State (RPI: 305) at arm's length for much of the night. The Jackrabbits made a few runs, and even tied it at 23 with 6 minutes, 23 seconds to go in the first half.
But the game was never in serious doubt. An eight-point halftime lead turned to 11 on Hollins' 3-pointer right out of the gate and the Jackrabbits never came closer than 10 the rest of the night.
Much of the credit goes to Hollins, who kept the Gophers' energy up by filling the stat sheet. He scored a season-high 20 points, added a career-high 14 rebounds, and late in the game scored his 1,000th point as a Gopher.
There were no high-flying alley-oops, no monster jams on Tuesday for Hollins. He was just cool and business-like on a night when that's exactly what the Gophers called for, especially at the start of the game in that drafty, half-filled old barn on University Ave.
"Tonight was definitely another one of those games, but we just learned from our mistakes," Hollins said. "We know what we needed to improve on from the last game and that was part of our focus going into the game. We knew that it might be a little dead in there and we'd have to bring our own energy. We knew that South Dakota State was a good team and we wanted to go out there and take care of business and bring our own intensity from the jump."
The Gophers struggled with their outside shot early, leading only 6-4 at the first TV timeout. But on their next three possessions, DeAndre Mathieu, Hollins and Malik Smith each drained 3-pointers, which seemed to jump-start the team and drew the late-arriving crowd into the atmosphere.
"Coach (Richard Pitino) tells us to keep shooting the ball, keep taking shots," Mathieu said. "We were taking good looks in the first half, they just weren't falling.
"We get a lot of shots up during the day, in practice, individuals in the morning. We've got good shooters, so we kept shooting the ball."
They also kept crashing the boards, outrebounding the Jackrabbits 40-30 on the night. Elliot Eliason posted a double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds) in 25 minutes of action after missing the New Orleans game with a sprained ankle.
But the story of the night was Hollins. Before the season, Pitino surveyed his front line, and after centers Eliason and Mo Walker, he didn't know where the rebounds would come from. Oto Osenieks and Joey King averaged 4.6 boards per game between them last year. Pitino knew that even with improvement in those numbers from his nominal power forwards, he'd need more work from Hollins on the glass.
"We've talked a lot about looking at ourselves in the mirror, understanding our weaknesses and everybody making up for everything else," Pitino said. "Austin was one of those guys. We said, 'You're going to have to get us 7-8 rebounds a game.' And he's showed that ability to be able to do that. He's been tremendous on the glass."
With those career-high 14 rebounds on the night, Hollins is now averaging 7.4 boards per game, more than double his previous career best of 3.2 he set last season and right in line with his coach's expectations.
"I definitely couldn't have predicted that, but I've put in a lot of work in the offseason and it's really starting to pay off," Hollins said. "I can really see the changes. I'm just going to going out there and keep playing as hard as I can to help my teammates."