MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Andre Smith and North Carolina-Asheville provided a much stiffer test than Minnesota expected.
The 24th-ranked Gophers nearly blew a 23-point second-half lead in their season opener before hanging on to defeat the Bulldogs, 87-81.
Rick Rickert scored 26 points, reserve Maurice Hargrow added a career-high 21 and Michael Bauer 20 for the Gophers (1-0), who led 50-27 at halftime.
But Smith, the preseason Big South Conference Player of the Year, led a 15-5 charge in the final two minutes to get the Bulldogs (0-2) within the final score.
Smith made 3-of-4 3-pointers and finished with 27 points. He had 18 in UNC-Ashville's 66-52 loss at No. 10 Michigan State on Friday.
Minnesota scored the first eight points and took a double-digit lead, 18-8, on a 3-pointer by Rickert 4:24 into the contest. They maintained at least a 10-point advantage until the final 90 seconds.
The Gophers shot 52 percent (16-of-31) in the first half, including 7-of-12 from the arc, and limited the Bulldogs to 34 percent (10-of-29).
In the second half, UNC-Asheville shot 53 percent (18-of-34) and held Minnesota to 42 percent (11-of-26).
Gophers guard Ben Johnson, who sat out last season after transferring from Northwestern, had only four points on 2-of-8 shooting but grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds.
Minnesota improved to 26-3 in non-conference home games under coach Dan Monson.