MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota utilized a balanced scoring attack and strong defense to shut down visiting USC in a 55-40 victory before a crowd of 11,762 at Williams Arena on Saturday.
Junior guard Julian Welch led all scorers with 16 points and added a game-high six assists, while junior forward Rodney Williams had 12 points, nine rebounds, four steals, three blocked shots, three assists, and one highlight-reel dunk for the Gophers (8-1).
Minnesota held the Trojans (4-5) to 16-of-49 (.327) field goals, including just 3-of-11 (.273) from three-point range, while outrebounding the Men of Troy, 34-24. Meanwhile, the Gophers overcame 18 turnovers by making 20-of-41 (.488) field goals, including 6-of-13 (.462) from beyond the arc, and all nine free throw attempts.
The Gophers went on a 12-1 run late in the first half to pull away from USC, and built the lead to as many as 18 points in defeating a Trojans team that had won three of its past four outings.
Minnesota scored the first five points in the game, with freshman center Elliott Eliason scoring on a layup and then getting the assist on a three-pointer by Welch.
Following a three-pointer by the Trojans' Alexis Moore, Minnesota went on another 5-0 run to take a 10-3 advantage. Sophomore guard Austin Hollins hit a trey from the left corner, and Williams hit a pair of free throws for the seven-point lead.
But USC's Byron Wesley made a baseline jumper, and Maurice Jones hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Trojans their first lead of the afternoon, 11-10.
The Gophers struggled in the early going on offense, turning the ball over seven times in the first 9:15, and making just three of their first eight field goal attempts.
A basket by sophomore guard Maverick Ahanmisi and two free throws from freshman guard Joe Coleman helped the Gophers regain a 14-11 lead. But turnovers continued to mount, as the total reached nine by the third media timeout, and the Gophers had attempted just nine field goals in the first 12:14 compared to 17 attempts (and just three turnovers) for USC.
But Minnesota maintained its lead with proficiency at the free throw line, as it made its first eight attempts, including two each from Austin Hollins and Welch to keep the Gophers in front, 18-15.
Williams gave the Gophers a huge spark in the closing minutes, helping them stretch their lead to nine points, 24-15. He scored on a layup to put Minnesota up, 20-15, and then rejected a USC field goal attempt which led to a fastbreak layup by Welch. Following a media timeout, Williams brought down the house by coming up with a loose ball near midcourt and floating in for an uncontested 360-degree slam dunk that gave Minnesota its nine-point lead.
Freshman guard Andre Hollins helped the Gophers close the first half on a 12-1 run when he hit a three-pointer from the right elbow, while getting fouled on the attempt. Hollins made the free throw to make Minnesota a perfect 9-for-9 from the charity stripe and give it a 28-16 lead at the break.
The 16 first-half points by the Trojans marked the fewest allowed in the opening half by the Golden Gophers this season. Minnesota held Mount St. Mary's to 18 points in the opening stanza of its 85-56 win on Nov. 21. The Trojans made just 6-of-28 (.214) field goals in the first half, while the Gophers were 8-of-16. Minnesota also held a 21-10 advantage in rebounding, with Eliason and Williams each having five.
Minnesota was a bit stagnant offensively to start the second half, failing to score for the first 3:17. But USC had its own struggles, with three turnovers and just two points during that stretch, before Eliason sliced down the lane for a layup and Welch scored on a left-handed fastbreak layup to put the Gophers up 32-18 and force a timeout by USC head coach Kevin O'Neill.
USC finally reached 20 points with 15:40 remaining in the game on a fancy reverse layup by Greg Allen, but the Gophers' lead was still 12 points, 32-20.
Minnesota answered with a 9-3 run, as its lead grew to 18 points, 41-23, after Eliason grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Austin Hollins for a trey, followed by a dunk and a layup by Williams.
But the Trojans responded with a 6-0 run of their own to cut Minnesota's lead back to 12 points, 41-29, before Austin Hollins hit his third trifecta of the afternoon to put the Gophers back up by 15 points.
The teams played even the rest of the way, as Minnesota improved to 6-0 at home this season. Austin Hollins was the third Minnesota player to reach double figures with 11 points, while Eliason tied Williams for the rebounding lead with nine caroms and added four points.
USC was paced by 14 points from Jones, but he was the lone Trojans player to have a double-digit output. Wesley had seven points, four rebounds, and three assists, while Aaron Fuller finished with five points and five boards.
The Gophers remain home to face Appalachian State on Tuesday evening. Tipoff is set for 7:00 p.m. (CT), and the game will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.