MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—For Minnesota to finish near the top of a stacked Big Ten conference, the Gophers are going to have to play stingy defense.
The kind of defense the 21st-ranked team played Saturday against North Florida.
Rodney Williams led four players in double figures with 15 points while Minnesota used a season-high 13 blocks and season-high tying 22 forced turnovers and 15 steals to run away from the Ospreys 87-59 for their fourth straight victory.
“That’s our DNA,” Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. “We’ve got to hang our hat on our defense. That was a pretty impressive defensive effort. We knew we had a size advantage on them and it paid off.”
Austin Hollins added 12 points for Minnesota (8-1), while Trevor Mbakwe and Joe Coleman chipped in 11 each.
Parker Smith led North Florida (3-5) with 22 points while connecting on just 6 of 19 attempts, including a 3-for-11 mark from the 3-point line. He also committed a season-high five turnovers. Travis Wallace added a season-high 17 points.
The Ospreys’ 22 turnovers were their most this season, while their 35.1 percent shooting was a season low.
The Gophers grabbed a season-best 25 offensive rebounds, turning them into 27 points. They also outscored North Florida 54-24 in the paint.
“They were the most physical team we’ve played all season,” Ospreys coach Matthew Driscoll said. “We really struggled with their physicality. Our room for error in playing these kinds of games is very small.”
Minnesota held a double-digit advantage throughout the second half. When North Florida cut its deficit to 10 early in the period, Williams and Coleman combined on an 11-1 run and the Gophers led comfortably the rest of the way.
Williams scored 11 of his points in the second half, also chipping in a team-high eight points, four assists and two blocks.
“In the first half I found myself standing around a lot,” Williams said. “The coaches told me to be more aggressive.”
While Williams and Coleman paced the offense in the second half, Hollins got them going in the first.
The junior guard, who also blocked a career-high four shots, scored 10 of his points in the first 20 minutes, including six during a 15-0 Minnesota run after North Florida built a 21-15 lead the saw the Ospreys go scoreless for a 7 1/2 -minute stretch. Six of the Gophers’ seven field goals during the spurt were layups or dunks, including three from Hollins.
“He’s a young man who’s capable of doing that,” Smith said. “He saw we were struggling. I’m glad to see him stepping up and taking charge.”
After hitting its first five attempts of the game, North Florida made just 5 of 23 shots the rest of the first half.
Minnesota center Eliot Eliason and guard Andre Hollins recorded three steals each, a career high for the former and season-high tying mark for the latter. Eliason added a pair of blocked shots.
“You could tell the difference from the first four minutes and the rest of the game,” Eliason said. “When we’re blocking shots and getting after steals, we’re a lot tougher. We’ll beat a lot more opponents.”
Despite scoring a season-high 87 points, the Gophers shot a season-worst 7.7 percent (1-for-13) from the 3-point line. Minnesota shot 45.2 percent overall.
Reserve Andre Ingram missed the game due to the death of his grandmother. Smith said he expects Ingram back for Minnesota next game Tuesday against South Dakota State.
Ospreys starter Jerron Granberry, who leads the team with 31 minutes per game, missed his third straight game due to the death of his father. Reserve forward Andy Diaz missed his fifth consecutive game with a leg injury.