Gophers finally get a road win, top Northwestern

Jace Frederick

Evanston, Ill. — The Gophers likely needed a weekend split to stay inside the field of most bracketologists’ NCAA Tournament projections.

That’s exactly what they got when they beat Northwestern 54-48 Sunday night in Evanston, Ill.

It was just the Gophers second conference road win  and snapped a five-game road losing streak.

“We were tired of losing on the road,” junior guard DeAndre Mathieu said. “We knew we could do it, we just had to get out there and get after it and we finally got one.”

It was Mathieu who sparked the Gophers, particularly in the second half.

After he hit a three point shot to bring the Gophers to within three at the half, Mathieu scored 10 of Minnesota’s first 14 second-half points.

He finished the night with a team-high 18.

“Coach lit a fire in me at halftime,” Mathieu said. “He’s good at getting me going, even though he shouldn’t have to.”

The Gophers needed Mathieu to shovel them out of a halftime hole due to an array of first-half turnovers.

Minnesota committed 10 turnovers in the first half and finished with 18 for the game.

Gophers head coach Pitino said Northwestern did a nice job of slapping down and shrinking the court, particularly when the Gophers threw the ball into the post.

“You’ve got to give them credit for that, they’re a very good defensive team,” Pitino said. “But then there were some other ones that were just really, really silly.”

But the Gophers were able to overcome their turnovers on the defensive end, where they put forth one of their best efforts of the season.

Minnesota held the Wildcats to an abysmal 16-for-53 (30.2 percent) shooting performance from the floor.

Northwestern star Drew Crawford — who poured in 17 the last time these two met in a 55-54 Wildcats win on Feb. 01 — was held to two points on 1 for 15 shooting on Sunday.

An unexpected hero for the Gophers on the defensive end was junior center Mo Walker.

Walker, who’d shined on the offensive end of late, is not known to be much of a  defensive presence. But he was on Sunday, as he finished with three blocks and proved critical in the Gophers pick-and-roll defense.

“Coach stressed defense and getting stops tonight, so that’s what I pretty much focused all my energy and efforts [into],” Walker said. “I know if I take my defense to another level I can be out there.”

The Gophers lost their last bout with Northwestern by one point after both Mathieu and Walker missed shots in the last five seconds of the game — leaving many players, including Walker, in tears.

Pitino showed the team a clip of  that finish prior to Sunday’s game, which brought silence throughout the locker room.

“We knew we were coming in with a vengeance,” Walker said. “It was like a revenge game for us. We knew we had to come in and settle the difference, settle the score.”