GAME NOTES: In the second semifinal of the 2014 National Invitation Tournament, the Florida State Seminoles tangle with the Minnesota Golden Gophers at New York's famed Madison Square Garden.
Richard Pitino's Golden Gophers are one of the four top seeds in this event, and they have certainly played that way to this point. In the first three rounds, they took down High Point (88-81), Saint Mary's (63-55) and, most recently, Southern Miss (81-73). Minnesota is currently 23-13 overall as it attempts to return to the NIT championship game, where it fell to Stanford in 2012.
Florida State also picked up a No. 1 seed in this tournament, after having its bubble burst on Selection Sunday. The Seminoles are 22-13 overall heading into this contest, having defeated Florida Gulf Coast (58-53), Georgetown (101-90) and Louisiana Tech (78-75) in the first three rounds on the NIT.
These teams met earlier this season during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and Minnesota claimed a 71-61 victory at home in that one, pulling ahead in the all-time series in the process (5-4). The winner this time around will move on to the NIT finals to clash with either Clemson or SMU. That game will be on Thursday night.
Led by Aaron Thomas' 21 points, and 20 more from Okaro White, Florida State was able to hold off Louisiana Tech for its win in the quarterfinals. The Seminoles were outscored off turnovers (18-7) and in the paint (36-30), but they limited the Bulldogs to just 35.6 percent shooting and earned a 43-36 edge on the glass.
Florida State is a rather pedestrian offensive team, as it nets just 71.1 ppg. However, the Seminoles are still an efficient unit, as they led the ACC in field goal percentage (.468) this season. They are also a solid team on defense, limiting foes to 66.4 ppg on 39.9 percent shooting. Thomas (14.8 ppg) and White (13.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) are the most productive players on the roster, with Ian Miller (13.7 ppg) providing a spark off the bench. Miller finished with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting in the win over LaTech, while Devon Bookert and Montay Brandon played larger roles, combining for 21 points.
Austin Hollins erupted for 32 points, hitting 6-of-11 from 3-point range along the way, to carry Minnesota over Southern Miss in the quarterfinals. The Golden Gophers connected on 50 percent of their shots as a team and also hit 19-of-21 at the free-throw line to make up for a 37-27 deficit on the glass.
Minnesota is scoring at a similar clip as Florida State (71.8 ppg), but it has not been as efficient, sinking just under 45 percent of its total shots. The Golden Gophers have also had a bit more trouble slowing teams down, allowing 68 ppg on 42.5 percent shooting. Austin Hollins (12.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Andre Hollins (13.6 ppg) are the top scorers for Minnesota, which is a team heavily reliant on its backcourt production. DeAndre Mathieu (11.8 ppg, 4.1 apg) isn't called upon to score as much, but his ability to move the ball is valuable. Elliott Eliason (5.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2 bpg) isn't a great scorer, but he protects the rim on defense and does a solid job on the boards.
Like the other semifinal between Clemson and SMU, this contest features a pair of similar squads. Neither really excels at either end of the court, but has found ways to win regardless. The Golden Gophers have the edge out on the perimeter, but they will need a strong showing from Eliason to top the Seminoles again.
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