Rodney Williams only needed the first half of Tuesday’s game to answer his critics.
The senior co-captain scored a Big Ten career-high 23 points in an 84-65 win against Nebraska, including 19 points in the first half.
No. 23 Minnesota snapped its four-game losing streak in flashy fashion, stretching the floor and getting back to its fast-paced style of basketball.
Williams added five rebounds and shot 8-for-13 in front of an announced crowd of 12,672 at Williams Arena.
“Tonight we had a chance to run up against a team that … we can force them into hurrying,” coach Tubby Smith said. “I’m not naive enough to think we can do that against Wisconsin or Michigan.”
Williams and fellow co-captain Austin Hollins dunked their way out of the shooting slump they had been in during back-to-back road losses to Wisconsin and Northwestern.
“Getting those dunks really helped get the frustration out,” Williams said.
Hollins finished with 13 points, five assists and three steals.
The pair had scored 17 points on 32 shots in losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin.
“Seeing the ball go through the basket, no matter how, is really a confidence boost,” Williams said.
Against Nebraska, it became evident early that coach Tubby Smith wanted to get the two going. Williams and Hollins had 14 of Minnesota’s 29 first-half shot attempts.
Williams opened the game with a dunk.
“It didn’t surprise us,” Trevor Mbakwe said. “He just needed to get aggressive, and once he got the quick dunk off the tip, that got him into a rhythm.”
At his locker after the game, Mbakwe sat with a bag of ice on each knee and one on his injured right wrist, which he said was a “little sore” after the game.
“It was good to get [Williams] going early,” Mbakwe said. “I’m happy for him. He’s taken a lot of criticism lately.”
Minnesota took a nine-point lead into the locker room at halftime, but the gap could have been much wider.
The Cornhuskers’ Ray Gallegos shot 80 percent in the first half and had 20 points to keep the game within single digits.
But the Gophers held Gallegos to 10 second-half points, and Nebraska shot 46 percent in the final 20 minutes.
Smith’s starters combined for 61 of 84 points, as the reserves served more as a time management tool.
Minnesota, averaging 14 turnovers per game, took care of the ball with six turnovers Tuesday. It had nine in its loss to Wisconsin last Thursday.
“We played smarter,” Hollins said.
Just as Williams got his frustration out on the court, his coach seemed to blow off the steam of losing four straight after the game.
“We had enough negative over the last two weeks, enough garbage.” Smith said. “Garbage in, garbage out.”