After two games—both losses—the 19th-ranked Tigers are facing a critical game and it's only November.
Andre Hollins scored a career-high 41 points to lead Minnesota to an 84-75 victory over Memphis on Friday in the consolation semifinals of the tournament considered to have the strongest field of any this season.
"All the criticism and blame always fall on me as it should," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "But there is no need to push the panic button. This is just part of the journey. We still have a chance to be scary good with all the talent we have."
D.J. Stephens had 15 points to lead the Tigers (2-2), who lost 78-65 to VCU in the opening round and now face the possibility of going home without a win. They will play in the seventh-place game Saturday.
Tarik Black added 13 points for Memphis, while Shaq Goodwin and Adonis Thomas had 12 each. Starting point guard Joe Jackson, who Pastner said Thursday had to improve his play, logged just 7 minutes—all in the first half—and had two points without an assist.
"Joe's going to be better than that. We know he will be better," Pastner said. "I believe in Joe and he will snap out of it."
Hollins' total is a figure no Minnesota player had reached in 41 years.
"This definitely a great feeling," Hollins, a native of Memphis, said with a wide smile. "It is my hometown team. I won two state championships with a couple of the other guys on Memphis. It was a great feeling to win against guys I used to play with."
And it was a pretty good feeling for the Gophers (5-1), who lost 89-71 to No. 5 Duke in the first round, and will meet the winner of the Northern Iowa-Stanford game for fifth place on Saturday.
The sophomore guard scored 24 points in the first half—one off his career high entering the game—and he closed strong, making 7 of 8 free throws and throwing in a monster dunk over the final 1:15 to account for all the Golden Gophers' points in a 9-0 run to end the game.
Hollins finished 12 of 16 from the field—making all five of his 3-point attempts—and was 12 of 13 from the free throw line.
"We know he can shoot the ball. We know he can score the ball," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "I think understanding the flow of the game and the tempo of the game, all of those things you have to do. His defense has gotten a lot better. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact he's healthy.
"He really rose to the occasion especially in the second half. Dre put on a great display. I don't think I've ever seen a young man I've coached do that. I'm very impressed."
The last Minnesota player to break the 40-point mark was Oliver Shannon, who had 42 points against Wisconsin on March 6, 1971. Only two others have reached the mark in school history.
Hollins said he didn't do anything special before Friday's game.
"I had some cereal. That's it. Just some Frosted Flakes," he said.
Once the game started he did do something besides scoring.
"We tried to do what the coach was preaching, taking care of the ball," Hollins said.
Hollins had a quiet 24 points in the first half, which ended with Minnesota leading 47-42. He had one stretch where he hit two straight after Memphis had taken a 38-37 lead but otherwise he was taking shots within the offense.
Memphis held its last lead at 68-67 on a 3 by Stephens with 6:10 to play. Rodney Williams, who had 13 points, scored on a drive with 5:58 left to give the Gophers the lead for good.
The Tigers managed to get within three points twice but they hurt themselves at the free throw line, missing five straight—including two front ends of 1-and-1s over the final 10 minutes. During that stretch Minnesota made 13 of 14 at the line.
"We had chances down the stretch but we turned the ball over and missed a load of free throws," Pastner said. "Boy, did that bite us in the butt."