MINNEAPOLIS When the University of Minnesota mens basketball team needed to answer against North Dakota State, sophomore guard Maverick Ahanmisi stepped up to the challenge.Ahanmisi made two key first-half three-pointers and added six points after halftime to help the Gophers hold off the Bison, 63-59, on Thursday at Williams Arena.Ahanmisi finished with a career-high 13 points, along with three rebounds, three assists and three steals to help Minnesota improve to 12-1 as it enters Big Ten play next week."Maverick, thank God he was on tonight and playing well, Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. "Hes playing with a lot of poise.After Minnesota fell behind 14-2 early to the Bison, the Gophers clawed their way back. They finally tied the game at 19-19 on a Rodney Williams dunk, then again at 21-21 on another dunk by Williams. But after NDSUs Dylan Hale hit a 3-pointer, Ahanmisi answered with the first of his two 3-pointers to even the score at 24-24.Not long after that, Ahanmisi again answered with another 3-pointer that tied it at 27. His 3-point shooting helped Minnesota hold on to a 32-29 lead at the half."I thought his two (3-pointers) in particular, once he hit his second one, that changed the way that we had to defend that screen and roll a little bit, NDSU coach Saul Phillips said of Ahanmisi. "He looked comfortable doing it. You look not only as a coach are they making it, but do they look comfortable. He looked comfortable and looked confident.The two early baskets got Ahanmisi on a role, but he deflected much of the credit."That really gave me confidence, but other than that, our bench was really helping us out, he said. "They were just telling us what to do on the court. They just tell us little things that we dont see when were playing. That really helps a lot, too.Early in the second half, it appeared as if the Gophers might pull away. Minnesota took a 41-32 lead with around 16 minutes to play. But the visiting Bison hung tough and climbed back to take a 53-52 lead. Ahanmisi then scored the next six points for the Gophers to give Minnesota a 58-55 lead on a long two-point shot.While he notched a career-high 13 points besting his previous high of 10 Ahanmisi had a turnover late in the second half that could have been costly. With Minnesota holding a 59-57 lead, Ahanmisi drove the lane and coughed the ball up. The Bison couldnt capitalize on the other end, however, and Minnesota eventually held on."He had one turnover there that was a bad turnover, but I thought he was able to do some other stuff to help us out a lot, Smith said.Thursday marked Ahanmisis third consecutive start after coming off the bench for Minnesotas first 10 games. His role has increased as true freshman point guard Andre Hollins has been hobbled by an ankle injury.In his last start prior to Thursday, Ahanmisi scored 10 points including a pair of 3-pointers and had three assists in a win over Central Michigan. He continued to grow comfortable in his new role Thursday with a career night."I feel like I can step in and fill that role, Ahanmisi said. "But were a team, so were going to need everybody. Come Big Ten play, were really going to need to step up.A trip to Fargo in the Gophers future?
After the game, Phillips was asked if NDSU and Minnesota had talked about playing a future game in Fargo. The two squads have played several times in recent years in Minneapolis and will play again at Williams Arena next year but the Bison havent hosted the Gophers during Smiths tenure.Phillips said that game would be the biggest North Dakota State mens basketball even in Fargo in a long time if they hosted it at the Fargodome. He even said hed cook dinner for the Gophers if that would help sweeten the deal."Thats not going to do it, Smith said. "Are they going to cook some bison meat?