Gophers wake up, beat Northwestern

by Todd Zolecki

EVANSTON, Ill. — The Great Motivator used a heated halftime locker room speech Saturday to turn a major disaster into a 75-56 victory for the Gophers men’s basketball team against Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The motivator, as described by his players, is Minnesota coach Clem Haskins. The speech, as described by the coach, got the attention of a team that looked capable of losing a game in which it had no business trailing in the first place.
The coach’s outburst came after Northwestern went into intermission with a 31-29 lead. He reminded the team that they weren’t playing like the sixth-ranked team in the country and demanded an improvement.
At times, Minnesota looked inept on offense in the first 20 minutes, shooting only 29 percent from the floor. On the other side of the court, the Gophers allowed Wildcats center Evan Eschmeyer to shoot a perfect 5 for 5 from the floor in the first half for 12 points.
That’s why Haskins went off. Gophers center John Thomas said this is the type of game that scares Haskins. A team with nothing to lose, like Northwestern, has much to gain by knocking a top 10 team off its perch. And a loss to the Wildcats could be the one game that would spoil the Gophers’ Big Ten title aspirations if the race is tight down the stretch.
Whatever Haskins said in the locker room — it can’t be repeated because every other word would have to be bleeped out — it sure worked.
Players also found it difficult to put Haskins’ speech into proper words.
“All I can say is … Coach is a fighter,” Gophers forward Quincy Lewis said. “He’s an emotional guy.”
Minnesota center John Thomas said the scary part is, this wasn’t one of Haskins’ best performances. He said it didn’t even rank among the top 10 of Haskins’ all-time, halftime tirades.
The Gophers broke out of their shooting funk in the second half by starting out on an 11-0 run. The shots that hit the front of the rim, the backboard or missed everything all together in the first half found net in the second half.
The Gophers’ top shooters, Bobby Jackson and Sam Jacobson, struggled early in the game. Haskins said he wasn’t concerned about that. He said he’ll always let his shooters shoot. Sooner or later the shots will fall.
They did; even the ones that looked like they shouldn’t have.
“They made some tough shots,” Northwestern coach Ricky Byrdsong said. “Those shots demonstrate the talent they have. This is a hard team for us to play. There’s not one kid on their bench that can’t score.”
Thomas led Minnesota with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Gophers guards Jackson and Eric Harris each had 13 and Jacobson chipped in 11, all of which came in the second half.
Besides working better on offense — Minnesota’s shooting improved to a sizzling 63 percent in the second half — the Gophers also picked things up on defense.
The aggressive pressure defense, which Haskins said has been his team’s trademark all season, started to give the Wildcats fits. They forced some early turnovers in the half and took advantage. All together the Gophers scored 24 points off of Northwestern’s 17 miscues. Minnesota had seven turnovers from which the Wildcats mustered only four points.
Harris said his teammates didn’t take the Wildcats too lightly in the first half. They just played too lackadaisical.
And the Gophers were just a little bit nervous about it.
“There was some concern at halftime,” Thomas said. “But we knew if we picked it up in the second half and played like the way we are capable of playing we could get it done.”
It was a game of two halves. The first could have given Wisconsin a chance, which had only 11 points earlier that afternoon at Ohio State. The second would have beaten almost anyone.
“The second half we played like we have been playing the whole year,” Haskins said. “We don’t give up a lot of easy shots. Our defense has really carried us.”
The Gophers host Penn State on Wednesday at Williams Arena.

##6 Gophers 29 46 — 75
Northwestern 31 25 — 56

Gophers — James 1-5 2-2 4, Jacobson 4-11 1-2 11, J.Thomas 8-11 1-2 17, Jackson 5-15 2-3 13, Harris 4-7 4-4 13, Archambault 0-0 0-0 0, Stauber 0-0 0-0 0, Lewis 4-7 1-2 9, C.Thomas 1-3 2-2 4, Tarver 1-2 0-0 2, Winter 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 29-64 13-17 75.
Northwestern — Branch 2-7 0-0 4, Ammons 3-5 1-4 9, Eschmeyer 5-9 8-11 18, Bonner 2-5 1-3 7, Johnson 3-10 4-7 11, Harmsen 2-3 0-1 4, Hanlon 0-1 1-2 1, Pomeday 0-0 0-0 0, Molnar 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 18-41 15-28 56.
3-Point goals — Minnesota 4-13 (Jacobson 2-6, Jackson 1-4, Harris 1-1, Lewis 0-2), Northwestern 5-15 (Ammons 2-4, Bonner 2-4, Johnson 1-3, Harmsen 0-1, Branch 0-3). Fouled Out — J. Thomas, Winter. Rebounds — Minnesota 37 (James 11), Northwestern 29 (Eschmeyer 8). Assists — Minnesota 19 (Harris 7), Northwestern 13 (Bonner, Johnson 4). Total fouls — Minnesota 23, Northwestern 17. A — 6,100.