Center Mo Walker, making his first start of the season, scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Minnesota (8-2). Cory Dixon led the Privateers with 16 points, while Matt Derenbecker added 14 points and eight boards.The Gophers were coming off their most impressive victory of the season, a 10-point win over Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday. But hoping to avoid a letdown against the lightly regarded Privateers (1-4), Minnesota coach Richard Pitino had his team on a short leash early.
Pitino benched Hollins, his leading scorer, after the Gophers' first possession when Hollins wasn't paying attention and let a pass skip past him. Two minutes later, Pitino called a timeout after New Orleans scored two quick baskets to tie the game at 4-4.
Hollins returned after 5 minutes on the bench and keyed a 9-0 run with a 3-pointer and two free throws to put Minnesota ahead 21-6.
The Privateers cut the lead to 25-15 on the strength of seven points by Dixon, but then Minnesota scored 11 straight points in a 70-second span to put some distance between the teams.
Joey King started the run with a 3-pointer from the corner. Hollins then stole the inbounds pass and dished to Oto Osenieks, who hit a layup and was fouled. Osenieks converted the three-point play, and on the next two possessions King hit a pair of free throws and another 3-pointer.
New Orleans (1-4) lost its fourth straight and was coming off a 10-day layoff. The rust showed, especially early on. They shot just 34.6 from the field in the first half and committed 12 of their 17 turnovers before the break.
But after falling behind by as many as 24 points in the second half, the Privateers rallied to make the Gophers sweat. Derenbecker connected on three straight 3-pointers as an 18-4 run cut Minnesota's lead to 64-54.
New Orleans reduced the lead to single digits just once in the second half, when a layup by Kevin Hill made the score 69-61 with 3 minutes, 30 seconds to play. But Walker and Osenieks each hit two free throws and Austin Hollins capped the scoring with a 3-pointer in the final minute.
Minnesota played most of the game without starting center Elliott Eliason, who was slowed by a sprained ankle. Eliason, who's averaging 26.4 minutes per game, subbed in for Walker early in the first half but checked out again soon thereafter and watched the rest of the game from the bench.