Minnesota finally beats Northwestern

The Gophers tied a season-high with 10 three-pointers made and set a season-high with 25 attempted.

by Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team has a road win on its résumé.

Led by a career-high 19 points from sophomore guard Jamal Abu-Shamala, the Gophers beat Northwestern 62-55 on Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill., snapping their six-game losing streak to the Wildcats.

From the start, Abu-Shamala was the catalyst of Minnesota’s offensive attack. He went 7-of-11 from the field, connected on 5-of-8 three-pointers and played 38 minutes – all career-highs – to keep the Gophers in the game until Minnesota’s leading scorer, junior guard Lawrence McKenzie, eventually found his stroke.

With McKenzie held scoreless in the first half, Abu-Shamala and junior forward Dan Coleman combined for 19 first-half points to put the Gophers ahead 23-22 at halftime.

But it wouldn’t be long before McKenzie found his shot. After starting the game 0-for-5 from behind the arc, McKenzie, who finished with 11 points, hit timely shots from long range throughout the second half.

After playing even with Northwestern for a majority of the second half, Minnesota (9-13 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) worked its lead up to six points on back-to-back threes by Abu-Shamala and Coleman.

Moments later, McKenzie drilled a deep three with 1:25 remaining – the Gophers’ third three-pointer in three possessions – to stick a dagger in Northwestern.

“Lawrence is just a great player, he’s going to step up, and that’s what he did,” Abu-Shamala said.

McKenzie closed out the game, but without Abu-Shamala, the Gophers might not have been in position to end its skid against the Wildcats (11-10, 1-7).

It was the second-straight year Abu-Shamala owned Northwestern on its home court. Last year, Abu-Shamala paced Minnesota’s offense, hitting all four of his three-point attempts. And just like that night, Abu-Shamala was able to beat the Wildcats’ 1-3-1 zone with his long-range game Wednesday.

When Northwestern dismantled the Gophers 55-40 at Williams Arena not quite two weeks ago, Abu-Shamala was nearly a non-factor as he went 0-for-4 from behind the arc.

“Jamal Abu-Shamala had a tough game in Minneapolis,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “We stressed to not leave that guy. Ö That was about the only thing I was concerned with, and we still didn’t do it, so that’s a credit to him to come back like that.”

But unlike the last game against the Wildcats, when Minnesota was just 3-of-19 from three-point land, the Gophers moved the ball consistently Wednesday to create openings.

“We really wanted to spread the court and really get them spread out,” Abu-Shamala said.

And now it seems Minnesota has found a formula for success. In its two previous conference wins, the Gophers made a combined 18 three-pointers. On Wednesday, Minnesota tied a season-high in made threes (10) and set a season-high in threes attempted (25).

“We were fortunate to hit threes and spread the court,” interim coach Jim Molinari said. “When you hit shots, you look good. That was the key.”

Now, on its first winning streak of the Big Ten season, Molinari said his team finally has some confidence to work with.

“Young people, they work harder when they have a little success,” Molinari said.

“When you keep working at something, success will finally come,” he said. “And when you have a little success, it gives energy and we played with more energy tonight.”