MINNEAPOLIS – Maverick Ahanmisi scored a career-high 21 points, and Minnesota moved on in the National Invitation Tournament with an 88-81 victory over High Point on Tuesday.
Joey King had 14 points and seven rebounds, Mo Walker and Andre Hollins each pitched in 13 points and the Gophers (21-13), the top seed in their quadrant. They will host a second-round game against either Utah or St. Mary’s.
Austin Hollins hit a 3-pointer to stretch Minnesota’s lead to 47-32 early in the second half, but High Point pushed back with Gophers point guard DeAndre Mathieu out because of a lower-body injury and pulled within 60-55 inside the 8-minute mark. Mathieu was hurt early in the game after a hard foul on his way to the hoop. He played a little bit after that but was pulled for good after halftime.
John Brown dropped down a couple of jaw-dropping dunks off lob passes and matched his per-game average with 19 points for the Panthers (16-15), but he fouled out with 2:40 left and the Gophers leading by seven.
Devante Wallace had a team-high 20 points the Panthers, who fell to 0-5 all-time against Big Ten teams. That includes a 2008 loss here to the Gophers when Tubby Smith was the head coach. Smith played for the Panthers in the early 1970s.
The Gophers were disappointed to be excluded from the NCAA tournament, with a strength-of-schedule ranking in the top 10 nationally, but they realized where they were headed after losing by 26 points to Wisconsin in the Big Ten quarterfinals last week. They didn’t even get together to watch the selection show.
In 2012, the Gophers won three road games, went to Madison Square Garden and reached the NIT championship before losing to Stanford. They have the talent for a return trip to New York if they’re engaged enough in this consolation event that many major-conference teams fail to bring full effort to.
Including the 1996 and 1998 participants later voided by the NCAA for major rules violations in the term-paper scandal that rocked the university and set the program back for years, the Gophers are 29-13 over 15 NIT appearances – including two titles and two runner-up finishes.
This was the first NIT experience for High Point, which is in just its 15th season of NCAA Division I competition. The Panthers played in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament last year. The first-time Big South regular season champions at 12-4 lost to Winthrop in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, so Coastal Carolina – which lost to Minnesota here in November – grabbed the automatic NCAA tournament bid instead.
With students on spring break from classes, the arena was only about a quarter full, but the fans were into the game. The Panthers were within one to five points for almost the entire first half, but the crowd got loud near the end when the Gophers pulled away.
King’s high-low flip over a double team in the paint found Walker for a dunk and a 35-29 lead. Austin Hollins chased a steal in the backcourt so hard he had to leap over the High Point bench after reaching the edge of the elevated floor. Hollins hustled back on the court for defense, the Gophers got the ball back and he assisted on King’s 3-pointer on the other end with 26 seconds left before the break for a 38-29 lead.