GAME NOTES: The Minnesota Golden Gophers play host to the High Point Panthers in the first round of the 2014 National Invitation Tournament.
One of the four No. 1 seeds in this event, Minnesota came up just shy of a berth in the NCAA Tournament after finishing 20-13 overall. The Golden Gophers, in their first season under head coach Richard Pitino, son of Louisville's legendary head coach Rick, went just 8-10 in conference play. They are hoping to build on a 22-12 record in the NIT all-time, and make up for a loss to Stanford in the 2012 title game.
High Point won the regular-season title in the Big South, but couldn't carry that success over to the conference tournament. The Panthers were sent packing by Winthrop in the quarterfinals, 62-60. The loss ended a six-game win streak for High Point, which makes its NIT debut tonight, sporting a 16-14 overall record.
In the only previous meeting between these two programs, Minnesota rolled to an 82-56 win at Williams Arena during the 2008-09 season. The winner of this encounter will take on either Saint Mary's or Utah in the next round.
High Point's loss to Winthrop could not have been more heartbreaking. The Panthers, who trailed for most of the second half, rallied to take a 60-59 lead on an Adam Weary jumper with six seconds to play. However, just a few seconds later, Andre Smith nailed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the game to the Eagles.
Despite its winning record, High Point actually has a negative scoring differential this season (-1.5), netting 70.7 ppg while allowing 72.2. The Panthers are an efficient group offensively, connecting on 47.3 percent from the floor, but any misses rarely go their way as they are the third worst rebounding team on the glass (31.8 rpg). John Brown (19.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) does most of the work in scoring and nearly all of it on the glass. Devante Wallace (12.4 ppg) and Weary (11.9 ppg) also pitch in at the offensive end. Brown was the only one of the three to have much success against Winthrop, finishing with 17 points.
Minnesota was also set down in the quarterfinals of its league tournament, falling to Wisconsin in an 83-47 rout. The Golden Gophers only connected on 32.8 percent of their shots from the floor, while allowing the Badgers to convert at 54.5 percent. Austin Hollins was the leading scorer with 16 points, while DeAndre Mathieu tallied team-highs in rebounds (seven), assists (five) and steals (three).
Putting points on the board hasn't come all that easily for the Golden Gophers this season, as they are netting just 71.2 ppg and shooting at a 44.5 percent clip from the field. However, they have remained competitive by limiting foes to 67.8 ppg on 42.5 percent shooting. Andre Hollins (14.2 ppg) is the leading scorer among a trio of strong backcourt performers, although he is only shooting 39.8 percent from the field. Mathieu (12.1 ppg, 4.4 apg) is the more efficient scorer (.502 FG percentage), as well as the team leader in assists. Austin Hollins (11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) can also be counted on to hit shots.
Brown may be the most potent scorer on the floor in this contest, but the Golden Gophers' balance will help lead them to victory.
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