Men’s hoops regains grip to win 73-61

Anthony Maggio

EVANSTON, Ill. – Nobody would’ve blamed the 4,088 in Welsh-Ryan Arena for leaving Wednesday night’s basketball game between Northwestern and Minnesota at halftime.

The Gophers held the Wildcats to 26.1-percent shooting, forced 10 turnovers and allowed only 13 rebounds while easily building a 35-15 lead heading into the break.

But the second half of Minnesota’s 73-61 victory was an entirely different game.

Northwestern became the aggressors, and slowly stole the momentum. Minnesota’s lead was still 20 with 10 minutes to play, but the Gophers were back on their heels. Then the Wildcats pounced.

Northwestern forced four Minnesota turnovers in the next five minutes, and attacked the offensive glass. The Gophers only allowed two offensive rebounds in the first half, but gave up 15 to the Wildcats in the final 20 minutes.

With Minnesota up 54-33, Northwestern scored the next seven points capped by a Mohamed Hachad steal and behind the back pass to Jitim Young for a lay-up. The Gophers scored four straight, but the Wildcats followed with a 15-4 run to cut the lead to five with 2:26 to play.

Then Minnesota guard Maurice Hargrow had some words for his teammates.

“I told them all we need is one basket and one stop and it’s right back how we had it,” Hargrow said. “I just told everybody to calm down, we’re not losing by five points, we’re up by five.”

Rick Rickert hit a lay-up on the next possession, and after Hachad missed a three, Hargrow received a half-court pass, dribbled behind his back – causing Hachad to trip over his own feet – and hit a lay-up to put the game out of reach.

“We walked off the court not as satisfied as we should have been,” center Jerry Holman said. “But at the same time, we were satisfied because it was a road win. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

With the victory, Minnesota (15-7, 7-4 Big Ten) extends its win streak to three games and moves into a tie for fourth place with Illinois, but is only a game and a half behind first-place Michigan (9-4 Big Ten). Wednesday night was only the Gophers’ second road win of the season.

The only reason Minnesota walked away with the victory was its intensity in the first half.

The Gophers started the game on an 8-0 run, as it took Northwestern nearly seven minutes to connect on a field goal. Minnesota then went on a 19-4 run, making the game a blowout early.

Northwestern (10-13, 2-10) connected on only six shots the first 20 minutes. The Wildcats were only 1-of-12 from three-point range, and the Gophers’ zone defense was unforgiving inside. With 4:00 to play in the first stanza, the Wildcats still had more turnovers (10) than points (eight).

Meanwhile, the Gophers offense wasn’t on fire, but used good ball movement and shot selection to extend their lead. Hargrow led the way, connecting on 4-of-6 attempts for 10 points. Rickert added nine, but was only 4-of-13 from the floor.

“We played some of our best basketball of the year for 30 minutes,” coach Dan Monson said. “But on the road sometimes that’s not enough.”

Rickert led all players in the scoring column with 22 points on 8-of-21 shooting, tying a career high for shots attempted in a game. His 13 rebounds were also a career high.

Hargrow added 16 for Minnesota, while guard Kevin Burleson chipped in 12 thanks to 10-of-12 shooting from the free throw line. The Gophers shot 41.5 percent as a team while hitting 4-of-19 shots from three-point range.

Young led Northwestern with 18 points while senior Jason Burke added 11.

Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]