INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 08: Dave Sobolewski #3 of the Northwestern Wildcats drives for a shot attempt against the Elliott Eliason #55 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers during their first round game of 2012 Big Ten Men's Basketball Conferene Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 8, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Freshman point guard Andre Hollins scored a game-high 25 points and fellow first-year contributor Elliott Eliason hauled in six offensive rebounds in place of the injured Ralph Sampson III to help the Minnesota Golden Gophers advance through the 2012 Big Ten Tournament bracket.
The Minnesota Golde Gophers were all but written a couple of times this season -- first when Trevor Mbakwe went down with a season-ending injury and then again after suffering six straight losses late in the conference season.
Unlikely heroes emerged on Thursday to give the Gophers hope, however, as freshmen Andre Hollins and Elliott Eliason played very well to help the Gophers advance through to the next round of the Big Ten Tournament. Hollins scored 16 points in the first half on Thursday on the way to a game-high 25, including five three-pointers, while Eliason stepped in as the starting center to haul in 10 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end.
Neither player was expected to contribute like they did, but the Gophers needed every ounce of what they gave while narrowly beating the Northwestern Wildcats in overtime. Tubby Smith's team will need big games out of their lesser-known contributors on Friday against the Michigan Wolverines, too, but let's revel in Thursday's victory for a moment before looking ahead.
Hollins' box score stats don't make it seem like he was the prototypical point guard considering he had 25 points, five rebounds and exactly zero assists, but he took the team over from the outset. The freshman controlled the pace of the game, kept the ball in his hands during the big moments and generally looked like he should have been averaging much more than the minutes he played during the regular season.
Eliason's offensive contributions weren't nearly as gaudy as the 6-foot-11 freshman center from Chadron, Neb., scored just four points on five shot attempts. He played a huge factor on defense, however, showing hustle that hadn't been seen in the middle for the Gophers most of the season as he was able to track down six offensive rebounds while subbing in for the injured Ralph Sampson III.
It's unclear what Friday's game will bring, but without the contributions of Hollins and Eliason on Thursday night, there never would have been a Friday for the Gophers.