ST LOUIS (Ticker) -- Minnesota played like it was happy to escape the Big Ten.
Reeling into the National Invitation Tournament with a five-game losing streak, the Golden Gophers built a 15-point halftime lead and posted a 62-52 victory over Saint Louis in a first-round game.
Rick Rickert and Maurice Hargrow each had 15 points to lead Minnesota (17-12), which will play the winner of the game between Hawaii and Nevada Las Vegas in the second round.
Saint Louis (16-14), which starts three guards, had fits with Minnesota's size advantage and shot just 33 percent from the field.
The 6-11 Rickert scored 11 of his points in the first half and 6-8 Michael Bauer added nine as Minnesota opened a 35-20 lead.
Jerry Holman, Minnesota's 6-10 center, finished with 13 points.
Saint Louis pulled within 51-47 on a dunk by Chris Sloan with 4:11 left, but that was as close as the Billikens would get.
Rickert hit a short jumper with 2:22 left and, after Kenny Brown converted 1-of-2 free throws for Saint Louis, Hargrow made a pair of free throws with 1:03 remaining. A dunk by Holman with 33 seconds left increased the lead to 57-48 and virtually sealed the win.
St. Louis star guard Marque Perry, a first-team Conference USA pick, hit just 3-of-16 shots from the field and finished with only six points, 11 below his season average.
Sloan led the Billikens with 13 points and nine rebounds and freshman Anthony Drejaj added 11 points off the bench.
The game drew a crowd of 7,698 at the 19,027-seat Savvis Center
Bauer, Rickert and Hargrow combined for 14 points in the first 8:49 as Minnesota raced to an 18-5 lead.
After Saint Louis responded with an 8-1 run to pull within 19-13, Rickert hit two baskets inside and a free throw and Holman added a pair of free throws to increase the Gophers' lead to 26-13.