INDIANAPOLIS — Northwestern played its final game of its worst season since 2008.
The Wildcats (8-23, 3-17 Big Ten) lost 74-57 to Minnesota(15-16, 8-12 Big Ten) in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, even though NU led at halftime. The game ends a difficult season, where a very young roster struggled to find a way to break through.
Both teams were unable to find an offensive rhythm in the opening minutes, shooting a combined 2-for-19 before the under 16 timeout. Minnesota managed to build up an eight point lead with just under 10 minutes to play, but then the Cats rallied with a 14-4 run to go into the second half with a lead.
“I thought we played a very good first half tonight,” Coach Chris Collins said. “I thought we were defending well. Their three-point shooting can be really devastating when they get going, and I thought we did a great job in the first half, even though Oturu was scoring, we were doing a good job on those other guys.”
The Gophers hit nine threes in the second half to put the game away, and shot a remarkable 50 percent from behind the arc. They also improved from their 30 percent first-half shooting to 48.6 percent in the second half. Minnesota outscored NU 45-26 in the second half and led by as many as 22 points.
Sophomore forward Pete Nance scored a team-high 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting, including 3-for-5 on three point shots. Despite being reduced to a bench role over the past few months, Nance’s game has surged. He played the third most minutes of any Cats’ player on Wednesday, and has grown into a more efficient scorer.
“There’s nothing really to it,” Nance said of his resurgence. “I just kind of got in the gym. I knew I had to stop pointing fingers and look inward, and I just really got in the gym and got to work. I’m glad I could get some momentum leading into the off-season.”
Nance is one of NU’s key returning pieces for next season. The team lacked experience this season, but because of its youth, returns most of its core, including their leading scorer, sophomore forward Miller Kopp. Kopp’s play took a big step up this season, and Collins said he feels Kopp has all-conference potential.
Against Minnesota, the Cats fell victim to a familiar problem — the inability to withstand another team’s runs. Their performance against Penn State on Saturday –– which features them overcoming a Nittany Lions’ rally in the first half –– provided some optimism. But Wednesday’s game showed NU still has work to do.
“How our guys have been this year through some adversity has really shown me a lot,” Collins said. “They never fragmented. They never splintered. They never pointed fingers. They just kept coming back and wanting to work and getting better. That’s why I was so happy they found some
wins late in the season because that can go a long way in helping us get ready for where we need to be next year.”