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Austin Hollins wills Gophers to NIT semis

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Minnesota's Austin Hollins shoots over Southern Mississippi's Daveon Boardingham (11) in the third round of the National Invitational Tournament in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Hollins finished with a game-high 32 points as Minnesota beat Southern Mississippi 81-73.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota men's basketball team has pleasant memories from its last time in the NIT.

Two years ago, the Gophers reached the event's final four before falling in the finals. One of the tastiest parts of that experience was the venue. Reach that final four and you play at basketball mecca Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Minnesota will make the Big Apple trip once again after riding a career-night from senior wing Austin Hollins. His 32 points carried the Gophers to an 81-73 win Tuesday night over Southern Mississippi at Williams Arena.

Minnesota faces tonight's winner between Florida State and Louisiana Tech in next Tuesday's semis.

"This is going to be a fun experience," Gophers center Maurice Walker said. "We had a lot of fun last time, going to Times Square and hanging out."

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As much site-seeing opportunities as there are in N.Y.C, the Gophers have one mainthing in mind. That's to stretch their season record from 23-13, to 25-13 by the time they're done.

"We're going there to win more basketball games," said Walker, who finished with 15 key points and used his 6-foot-10, 265-pounds to often overwhelm the undersized Eagles.

Minnesota looks like it is in the right mode to finish as NIT champions. That's especially true of Hollins, who has shaken off a midseason shooting slump to be the team's most explosive scorer. Hollins' career scoring night including 6-for-11 accuracy from 3-point range, and perfect 10-for-10 shooting from the free-throw line.

He helpedMinnesota emerge from an early-game swoon, as Southern Mississippi jumped on top 14-9. But behind his five first-half 3-pointers, Minnesota stayed in it and then built a 44-40 intermission lead.

Hollins was thrilled to go out at Williams Arena like this. But he wasn't spending much time afterward thinking about himself.

"We want to end the season on a high note," he said. "This is great now. But we want to win two more games."

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