Rapid Recap: Minnesota 77, Northwestern 68


Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Pat Spencer keeps the ball from a defender. The graduate guard led the team with 20 points.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

Pacing the sidelines at Minnesota on Sunday, head coach Chris Collins witnessed a lot of things he’d never seen before.

Before Sunday, Northwestern sophomore forward Miller Kopp had never played shooting guard. Freshman forward Robbie Beran and sophomore guard Ryan Greer had never played roles this big. The Wildcats never had a rotation this thin.

With three starters out with injury for a team that already has a short rotation, the Wildcats relied on players with little experience and lineups that Collins said hadn’t practiced together before Sunday.

Considering the circumstances, the result was no surprise –– NU (5-8, 0-3 Big Ten) lost 77-68 at Minnesota (8-6, 2-2).

The Cats led early, following six early points from sophomore forward Pete Nance, but then the Gophers started finding open three-point shooters against the Cats’ 2-3 zone. Minnesota hit six threes in the first half and had a 34-25 lead at the break, a lead the home team never relinquished.

The Gophers pulled away at the start of the second half, when NU scored just nine points over the first ten minutes. Minnesota went on a 13-0 run in the middle of the second half to take a 23-point lead.

The Cats didn’t go quietly –– sophomore forward Miller Kopp responded to that run by making three straight three-point shots. NU eventually cut the deficit to 9 points late in the game, led by 20 combined second half points from Kopp and grad transfer Pat Spencer.

But the Gophers iced the game at the line and never gave the Cats a real chance to win down the stretch.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1. The Cats suffer from lack of depth.

The night’s biggest development came an hour before tipoff, when three of NU’s starters were listed on the injury report.

Junior guard Anthony Gaines was declared out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, and freshman guard Boo Buie was ruled out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his left foot. Senior forward A.J Turner will be day-to-day going forward after suffering a thigh contusion.

Sunday, the Cats took the court with just seven scholarship players on the active roster. Beran took Turner’s spot in the starting lineup and Spencer opened the game at point guard.

Greer –– who was completely out of the rotation before Gaines’ injury –– played a season-high 22 minutes as the team’s sixth man.

Buie had been NU’s biggest positive this season and the offense focal point of the offense over the last month. But without the team’s starting point guard, the Cats struggled creating open shots and made just 44.1 percent of their field goal attempts.

Spencer finished the game with a team-high 22 points and eight assists. Kopp had 14 points, scoring in double figures for the third straight game.

2. The Cats go bigger than ever before.

Entering the game, NU already had the fifth-tallest starting lineup in the NCAA. Sunday, that lineup got three inches taller.

With Spencer and Beran on the court, the Cats started four players listed at six-foot-seven or taller. Kopp and Nance both played out of position, and Greer was the only guard available off the bench.

Despite the size advantage, NU was outrebounded 43-26 and allowed 30 points in the paint. The bigger lineup also cramped the Cats’ spacing on the perimeter offensively, and they went the entire first half without hitting a three-point shot.

3. The Cats have a rough start to the most packed stretch of the season.

When the season started, Gaines set out to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Buie was determined to show why the rest of the Big Ten should have recruited him instead of ignoring him in high school. And A.J. Turner was hoping a young Northwestern roster would come together quickly and surprise some of its rivals in the conference.

It looks like none of that will come true this season, and NU remains the only winless team in the Big Ten.

Now, the Cats have three more conference games over the next nine days, one of the most crowded stretches on the schedule this year.

Twitter: @2021_charlie
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