Men’s Basketball: Cold as ice up north

Matt Forman

Northwestern’s game against Minnesota on Sunday night was played at The Barn, the nickname for Williams Arena, where the Golden Gophers held a 14-2 home record.

It looked like the Gophers took the Wildcats (14-11, 5-9 Big Ten) out behind the woodshed, crushing NU 72-45.

“I’m going to have a lot of messages over the next couple of days for these guys,” coach Bill Carmody said of his team. “That’s for sure.”

Heading into Sunday’s contest, the Cats and Gophers were in a similar position – each team had lost three of its previous four games. But Minnesota wanted it more. It wanted revenge.

After starting the season 16-1, Minnesota lost to NU in mid-January and then dropped five of its next eight.

“I think that loss kind of hurt them, and the last few they really haven’t had good games,” junior guard Jeremy Nash said. “So I think it was kind of a statement game.”

As the temperature dipped into single digits in Minneapolis, the Cats were just as cold shooting the ball. NU made a season-low 14 field goals on 46 attempts and went 6-of-19 from long distance.

NU took an early lead on a 3-point shot by freshman forward John Shurna. The Cats held a 5-4 advantage with 16:33 remaining in the opening period, but that was their last lead of the game. Minnesota (20-7, 8-7) went on a 20-5 run to end the first half and headed into the break ahead 36-18.

“I think they came out really aggressive, and I don’t think we had a good chance to set up our offense,” Nash said. “I don’t think we came out slow, we were just on our heels more than we’re used to.”

On the night of the Academy Awards, Shurna and Nash were the Cats’ best supporting actors, each scoring a team-high nine points. Unfortunately for NU, there were no actors in a leading role. The Cats’ Big Three of senior Craig Moore, junior Kevin Coble and sophomore Michael Thompson combined to shoot 6-of-19 for 16 points.

Coble, who started despite battling an illness, played just seven minutes in the second half. Moore, who averages 36.2 minutes per game, played just four minutes after intermission. Carmody switched the lineup around to try to get some offense going. Instead, the Gophers kept extending their lead for the 27-point victory.

“We think about it all the time,” Nash said of the team battling the flu. “This has been a tough stretch for us because guys have been getting sick left and right. It’s tough when one of our elite scorers goes down.”

The Cats did not have to fight only off-court battles. On the court, Minnesota corralled 36 rebounds compared to NU’s 18.

“It’s a real disappointing game for us because I just don’t think we matched their physicalness,” Carmody said. “You have to take the crowd out of the game when you’re on the road.”

The loss to Minnesota looked strikingly similar to NU’s only other blowout loss of the season, a 74-45 defeat at Wisconsin in early January. After that game, the Cats won five of their next seven and hope to start a similar streak now.

“We need to come out with toughness and play the way we can,” Nash said. “We need to be man enough to watch the tape and say, ‘We’re not going to play like this any more.'”

[email protected]