‘Cats scratch post, drop U

Tim Klobuchar

EVANSTON, Ill. — The early season tested and approved formula for beating the Gophers men’s basketball team went like this: pound the ball inside, and take Sam Jacobson, Minnesota’s leading scorer, out of the game.
Then, when you factor in that the conference’s leading scorer and rebounder is your center, and Jacobson is still in Minneapolis because of a sprained back, your task becomes much easier, no matter how laughable your team usually is.
The result Wednesday was that Northwestern turned out to be much more formidable than expected, using a strong first half and 6-foot-11 Evan Eschmeyer’s 31 points to pave the way to a 66-59 victory.
The Gophers (7-6 overall) fell to 0-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 1990-91 season when they finished 12-16, and lost in Evanston for the same time since the 1988-89 season.
The deliberate Wildcats continually fed Eschmeyer in the post, where he often scored layups or drew fouls. Although the All-Big Ten center missed four free throws down the stretch that would have put Minnesota away even earlier, he still did more damage than the smaller Gophers could match with their inconsistent offense.
Northwestern shot 60 percent from the field for the game while Minnesota shot 40 percent.
“We didn’t have the firepower to beat this club,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said. “But you have to credit Northwestern. They played great. Eschmeyer did a great job of scoring and making plays all night. It’s not what we didn’t have. Even if we had Sam, we wouldn’t have won.”
Perhaps not, but the Gophers would have liked to at least test that hypothesis. Jacobson had scored 20 or more points in his last five games. Without him, the Gophers registered their lowest point total of the season.
“It’s different,” said sophomore guard Russ Archambault, who scored a career-high 15 points. “It’s weird without him.”
Haskins said, “It takes time. The last five games Sam’s been playing as good as anyone in the country, then the next day he can’t walk. You have to move on, but right now we miss him.”
Minnesota was especially cold the first 20 minutes, as it lurched to a 34-24 halftime deficit. But without the recently forgotten Archambault, the Gophers might have been finished long before that.
He kept the Gophers in the game in the first half, hitting three 3-pointers and scoring 11 of Minnesota’s 24 points. The 11 points were greater than the number of minutes he’d averaged in his last five games.
“It wasn’t just me who had to step up,” Archambault said of playing without Jacobson. “It’s everyone on the team. We just didn’t get it done. A couple guys did, and a couple guys didn’t.”
The Gophers, despite having post players Quincy Lewis, Miles Tarver and Kyle Sanden in foul trouble, almost completed a huge comeback. Down 40-26 at one point in the second half, the Gophers rallied once Lewis and Harris — Minnesota’s second and third leading scorers, respectively — started hitting shots. Lewis and Harris combined for 27 points in the second half.
Minnesota narrowed the gap to two points three times in the last five minutes, but as in its loss to Purdue on Friday, didn’t hit the one shot that could have made the difference.
“I was shooting a lot in the first half, and they just weren’t falling,” Harris said. “I hit a few in the second half and got into a rhythm. But overall, we just came out too flat in the first half.”
Only an intimate gathering of 3,813 came to Welsh-Ryan Arena for the Wildcats’ Big Ten home opener, and for much of the game the fans made little noise. Even when Eschmeyer came away with a first-half rebound flat on his back, then called timeout, he drew only polite applause.
The Gophers are used to playing in front of raucous crowds, both at home and on the road, but they said the lack of a real atmosphere didn’t affect their play at all.
“When you’re going to play a Big Ten game, you don’t have to pump anyone up,” Sanden said. “As long as the crowd is on top of you, it shouldn’t make a difference.”
If the Gophers don’t get Jacobson back soon, they could be looking up at a crowd on top of them in the standings. Right now, no one knows for sure whether Jacobson will be ready for Minnesota’s game at Penn State on Saturday.
“We practiced all week without him, so we were still mentally ready for this one,” Archambault said.
Still, it’s a feeling that Minnesota would rather not grow accustomed to.

WEDNESDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 24 35 — 59
Northwestern 34 32 — 66

Gophers (7-6)
Lewis 5-11 3-4 13, Tarver 0-2 0-0 0, Sanden 3-6 0-0 7, Clark 1-5 0-0 2, Harris 3-10 10-12 19, Archambault 6-8 0-0 15, Nathaniel 0-2 0-0 0, Schoenrock 0-0 1-2 1, Stanford 0-1 2-2 2, Broxsie 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-45 16-20 59.
Northwestern (7-4)
Harmsen 1-1 0-0 2, Branch 0-0 1-3 1, E. Eschmeyer 9-12 13-22 31, Bonner 4-9 4-4 13, Wink 5-9 2-2 15, Kammrath 0-0 0-0 0, Molnar 1-3 0-0 2, J. Eschmeyer 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 21-35 20-31 66.
Halftime — Northwestern 34, Minnesota 24. 3-pointers — Minnesota 7-15 (Archambault 3-5, Harris 3-8, Sanden 1-2), Northwestern 4-10 (Wink 3-7, Bonner 1-3). Fouled Out — Sanden, Wink. Rebounds — Minnesota 26 (Lewis 7), Northwestern 27 (E. Eschmeyer 12). Assists — Minnesota 10 (Archambault 4), Northwestern 16 (Branch 6). Total fouls — Minnesota 27, Northwestern 20. A-3,813.