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Gophers basketball: Victory over St. Mary's puts team one win from NIT Final Four

Maverick Ahanmisi of the Minnesota Gophers celebrates as he ties up the game during the first half against St. Marys during the NIT game at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Sunday, March 23, 2014. (Pioneer Press: Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)

MINNEAPOLIS -- It was a bad sign when fans were waiting to cheer on the Gophers' first basket nearly seven minutes into Sunday's game.

Minnesota was sleepwalking through most of the first half when it trailed 14-0 to start a second-round NIT game against St. Mary's at Williams Arena.

This kind of horrid start led to losses to Northwestern and Illinois at home this season -- two games that likely cost Minnesota an NCAA tournament bid.

But the Gophers woke up to get one win away from a trip to the NIT Final Four in New York with a 63-55 victory Sunday against the Gaels.

The Gophers (22-13) will play Sunday's winner of Southern Mississippi and Missouri at 8 p.m. Tuesday at home.

Sophomore Joey King had his third-straight double figure scoring game with a team-high 18 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field and 6-for-7 free throws.

The Gophers' first points of the game came at 13:11, but they trailed 16-6 with eight minutes left in the first half.

King, an Eagan native, was the lone bright spot in the first half with nine points, including seven during a 13-3 run capped by Maverick Ahanmisi's three-pointer to tie it 19-19.

The Barn crowd went wild as suddenly the Gophers looked like a team excited about playing their second-straight NIT game at home.

St. Mary's (23-12) still led 26-22 at halftime after forcing eight turnovers but it got outscored 21-9 to begin the second half.

Austin Hollins made his first field goal of the game with a three-pointer and DeAndre Mathieu followed with another shot from beyond the arc to make it 43-35 Minnesota at the 7:55 mark.

Mathieu missed most of the second half of Tuesday's 88-81 NIT win against High Point with a hip injury.

The junior point guard struggled handling the ball with five turnovers Sunday but he finished with 14 points.

The Gophers didn't get much help at all offensively from leading scorer Andre Hollins, who fouled with just five points on 1-for-7 shooting.

Fellow starting guard Austin Hollins also couldn't find much rhythm but he still had 10 points on 2-6 shooting with five assists.

Junior center Elliott Eliason had a strange stat line with no field goal attempts but eight rebounds and a career-high tying seven blocks.

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino had to figure out a different guard rotation with Mathieu and Andre Hollins both sitting throughout the second half with foul trouble.

Senior Maverick Ahanmisi, who had a career high 21 points against High Point, came off the bench to contribute seven points and two steals.

Stephen Holt led St. Mary's with 24 points on 6-for-15 shooting from the field.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.