Men’s Basketball: Down to seven-man rotation, Northwestern can’t keep up with Minnesota


(Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman). Pat Spencer dribbles the ball. The grad transfer guard scored 22 points Sunday.

John Riker, Assistant Sports Editor

Early on in Sunday’s Big Ten matchup, Minnesota backed up its reputation as one of the premier perimeter shooting teams in the conference.

The Golden Gophers hit six of their first 13 3-point looks to take command in the first half against Northwestern, who attempted only one look from beyond the arc in the frame. The Wildcats could not claw within striking distance in the second half and suffered a 77-68 loss.

NU (5-8, 0-3 Big Ten) remains winless in Big Ten play, while Minnesota (8-6, 2-2) avenged a double-overtime defeat to Purdue to even their conference record. The Cats –– short on both experience and numbers –– cut a 23-point second-half deficit down to single digits in the game’s final minutes, but couldn’t pull off the upset.

“I was really proud,” head coach Chris Collins said. “That game was on the brink of getting real ugly. They go up by 23, our energy level, our guys were really tired. We really fought until the end, which is all we really wanted those guys to do.”

The defeat came hours after the team announced two long-term losses: a season-ending shoulder injury to junior guard Anthony Gaines and a foot fracture to freshman guard Boo Buie, who is out indefinitely.

The Cats, playing with just seven players in their rotation, found success early on by attacking the basket, but they couldn’t match Minnesota on the perimeter or the glass. Grad transfer guard Pat Spencer took over as the primary ball handler and finished with 22 points and 8 assists, while center Ryan Young contributed 10 points and 9 rebounds.

“We only had one guard playing,” head coach Chris Collins said. “Minnesota did a really good job. They made it hard to get into our offense. Even though we weren’t turning it over, we did a good job of taking care of the ball, we had a hard time getting into our sets.”

While the Minnesota offense coolled off from long-range in the second half and missed on 10 consecutive three-point attempts, NU failed to take advantage on the offensive end as the Gophers stretched their lead to 23. The Cats also struggled to find an answer for Minnesota center Daniel Oturu, who posted 19 points and 16 rebounds.

NU snapped its 3-point drought late in the second half, when forward Miller Kopp knocked down treys on three consecutive possessions. Kopp’s hot hand sparked a Wildcat offensive surge that cut the team’s deficit to 9 points late in the game, but the Gophers made their final 13 free throws to secure the win.

With Buie and Gaines relegated to the sidelines for the foreseeable future, NU must find ways to make the most of their undermanned rotation to stay afloat in Big Ten play.

“This is going to be the group we’re going to have for the time being,” Collins said. “We got to do a good job figuring out how we can still function and play with this group.”

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