Men’s Basketball: Northwestern runs out of steam against Minnesota

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Daily file photo by Susan Du

Senior guard Reggie Hearn looks to attack in a recent home game. Hearn was one of only two Northwestern starters who scored in double digits in a losing effort against Minnesota.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Northwestern could only slow down No. 9 Minnesota for so long Sunday night.

The Wildcats (9-6, 0-2 Big Ten) trailed 17-14 at the half, but the Golden Gophers (14-1, 2-0) got hot in the second half, shooting a scorching 59 percent from the field to pull away from NU 69-51.

“They had that stretch of four or five (3-pointers) there when they just blew it open,” coach Bill Carmody said. “We knew we were going to have a hard time scoring, but we’re just not getting any scoring in the inside.”

The defining stretch Carmody describes came early in the second half, when Minnesota went on a 23-5 run over a nearly seven-minute stretch. The Cats trailed 19-18 with 16 minutes and 28 seconds left, but with 9 minutes and 38 seconds left, the deficit became 42-23. The run energized the crowd in Minneapolis and put NU on its heels.

“We executed our game plan, but it all goes back to those couple of minutes in the second half and that killed it for us,” sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski said.

The first half was an offensive nightmare for NU, which shot 27.8 percent from the field. The offense’s 14 points were one point shy of a record for least points in a half under Carmody and showcased NU’s lack of scoring depth. Sobolewski and senior guard Reggie Hearn were the only two starters in double figures and outscored the other three starters by 4 points.

However, defensively the Cats held the Golden Gophers to 33 percent shooting including 25 percent from behind the arc. That allowed them to keep the game close in the early, when the offense was not hitting its shots. Hearn said the stifling defense in the first half gave NU some hope entering the second.

“It was clear the defense kept us in the game,” Hearn said. “We had a game plan as far as how to defend them. We watched a ton of film about what they do offensively and we felt we had a good game plan defensively and we executed it well and it kept us in the game in the first half.

However, rebounding was still an issue for NU in the first half. Minnesota out-rebounded NU 21-10 in the first period, scoring 4 points off second chances. The difference on the glass became more of a factor in the second stanza when the Golden Gophers scored 10 second-chance points on 11 offensive rebounds. Overall, Minnesota out-rebounded NU 47-20 with 21 offensive rebounds.

In the second half Minnesota was able to get out in transition, scoring 12 points on the fastbreak. Many of those transition points came off of defensive rebounds and blocks. The Cats struggled to establish themselves in the paint, and as a result Golden Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe had four blocks and 11 rebounds. The beneficiary of many of those transition buckets was Austin Hollins, who scored a game-high 19 points for Minnesota and was the only Golden Gophers player in double figures.

“We didn’t turn the ball over too much in the first half, that really hurt us,” Carmody said. “In the second half we lost a couple, they threw it down the sideline, and Hollins banged some shots on us.”

The bench was a critical problem for NU with all of the injuries. Redshirt freshman Tre Demps scored 10 points off the bench, but only two other players saw more than two minutes of playing time off the bench,combining for 3 points in 28 minutes of play.

A pressing issue for NU on Sunday was its inability to hit open shots. The Cats missed numerous open jumpers including a wide open 3-pointer by freshman forward Kale Abrahamson after a steal. The freshman finished with 9 points on 3-of-5 shooting from behind the arc but his tendency to miss open shots is a trend that is worrying Carmody. The coach said he learned his team has to dictate the play with offense and not take every open look, which it has been able to do in recent years.