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Minnesota 73, Wake Forest 58

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- For some teams, NIT seems to stand for "Not
Interested. Thanks." The Minnesota Gophers are always up for more
games.

Vince Grier scored 18 points to lead Minnesota to a 73-58
victory over Wake Forest in the first round of the National
Invitation Tournament on Wednesday night.

For the Gophers (16-14), this one was all about their seniors.
Grier also had eight assists, seven rebounds and four steals. Moe
Hargrow scored 15 points, Adam Boone added 13 points and J'son
Stamper had 12 points and nine rebounds.

"Last shot," Stamper said. "You never want to end it on a bad
note."

Minnesota, the fourth seed in its group, will play a
second-round game next Tuesday against the winner of Friday's
Cincinnati-Charlotte matchup.

"I've had an opportunity to play in this tournament before,"
said Hargrow, a member of the team that finished fourth in the NIT
in 2003. "I wouldn't mind finishing my career by going back to the
Garden."

That's Madison Square Garden in New York, where the semifinals
are held.

"I just want to get back home," said Stamper, who was raised
in the Bronx.

Chris Ellis led the Demon Deacons (17-17) with 12 points and six
rebounds, and Justin Gray had 11 points and five assists. Eric
Williams was held to eight points, and he and Gray -- two bright
spots during an ultimately disappointing season -- finished a total
of 16 points under their combined average.

"We couldn't throw the ball in to Eric," coach Skip Prosser
said, noting his team's 19 turnovers. "We kept throwing the ball
out of bounds."

The Gophers had plenty to do with that.

"Our team has been built on intensity, especially when we play
well," Boone said. "Out-scrapping other teams and playing
defense."

Minnesota gave a sparse crowd -- announced at 2,643 with students
on spring break, by far the smallest of the season -- two
highlight-reel sequences in an even, fast-paced first half in which
neither team led by more than seven.

In the opening minutes, Grier leaped high to catch a lob pass
from Hargrow with one hand and landed on the low block before
popping right back up for an easy basket. Later, Stamper got a
steal and started a fastbreak that he ended with a one-handed,
back-spinning bounce pass that landed in a streaking Rico Tucker's
hands for a layup.

The fans who were there were fairly loud, though, and they
howled over a curious call at the beginning of the second half that
negated a nifty drive to the hoop by Grier when he was whistled for
charging.

During a brief conference by the officials to determine how much
time should be on the clock following a dead ball in the final
minutes, one man hollered, "It's an NIT game!"

The Gophers played like it was more than that, pulling away down
the stretch while Grier showed off the quickness, soft touch and
knack for finding the basket that made him an All-Big Ten
Conference selection last year. After breaking a finger in the
season opener that kept him out of the next five games, Grier
wasn't as consistently dominant as he was as a junior -- but he
clearly remained Minnesota's best player. He has 47 points in the
Gophers' last two games.

"I think you get in these games and you really see who your
team is and what their character is," said Minnesota coach Dan
Monson, who took the Golden Gophers to the NCAA tournament last
year.

Ranked 18th in The Associated Press preseason poll, the Demon
Deacons finished last in the 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference
after losing star Chris Paul to the NBA. They won twice in last
week's ACC tournament, losing to top-ranked Duke in the semifinals.

But this wasn't what Prosser or his players envisioned.

"It's very frustrating," Williams said. "We knew what kind of
team we could be, but we didn't play like it. If you don't have
that chemistry early, it's tough to get it."