EVANSTON — Northwestern lost again.
In what was probably their best chance at a home win for the remainder of the season, the Wildcats (6-20, 1-15) were thoroughly routed from start-to-finish at home against the 12th best team in the Big Ten. Northwestern’s losing skid has now reached 11 games, the longest since 2000.
This was one of the ugliest losses amid NU’s 11-game losing streak with Minnesota (13-13, 7-9) taking advantage of a completely lifeless performance from NU on Sunday afternoon. The commanding 26-point victory was much-needed for a Gopher team trying to slip back onto the NCAA Tournament Bubble.
Daniel Oturu was the story of the game as Northwestern could not find a way to contain one of the best big men in the Big Ten. As soon as the game started, it was clear that Oturu was the best player on the floor. He carried Minnesota on both sides of the floor, putting up 22 points and 12 rebounds to go along with three blocks on the defensive end.
The disparity in three point shooting gave Northwestern no chance to win the game. The Gophers were unconscious shooting 14-for-30, while the ‘Cats couldn’t find its shot from long range going just 3-for-18. The lone bright spot for Northwestern was the play of Pete Nance who scored 11 points on 5-9 shooting. He was aggressive when he got the ball, driving strong to the hoop and even finishing an alley oop.
To begin the game, both teams looked to establish an inside presence, getting the ball to their big men early and often. Ryan Young came out hot for NU, scoring the ‘Cats’ first six points on a few nice post moves, but the Gophers took an early 8-6 lead behind star center Daniel Oturu.
The Gophers pushed their lead to 20-12 with 11 minutes left in the half, knocking down threes left and right against a lazy Wildcat man-to-man defense. Minnesota shot 50 percent from deep in the first period, connecting on 7-of-14 attempts. Northwestern, on the other hand, remained ice cold from deep, starting the game 0-of-6 from behind the arc, and shooting just 2-of-11 in the first period.
After an easy layup by Marcus Carr, Chris Collins called a timeout trying to stop the bleeding as Minnesota stretched its lead to 27-15 thanks to a 12-3 run. After Collins’ timeout, Pete Nance gave the ‘Cats some life off the bench with a three and followed it up with a strong drive to the rim, resulting in an and-1. Those buckets kept the ’Cats within striking distance as Minnesota led by 11 at the four minute mark.
The ‘Cats had a chance to cut the deficit to seven with around two minutes to go, but Oturu made a phenomenal block, pinning Boo Buie’s layup high up on the backboard. Northwestern then preceded to go scoreless for over two-and-a-half minutes to close the half, allowing Minnesota to take a 16-point lead heading into the locker room.
As the second half began, Northwestern remained answerless for Oturu who drilled a three to open the scoring. While Robbie Beran and Ryan Young each made a layup, Oturu put his stamp on the game with a thunderous dunk to claim a 21-point lead with 13 minutes remaining leading to another timeout from Collins.
After Oturu’s dunk, Minnesota did not look back. The Gophers continued to fend off Northwestern, as Richard Pitino’s squad claimed a 29 point lead (78-49) with just under five minutes remaining, its largest lead of the night.
Alas, Northwestern fans were able to cash one victory tonight. With 23 seconds remaining, Minnesota missed its sixth free throw of the night giving the remaining Wildcat fans in attendance a voucher for a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich at the Old Orchard location.
Northwestern will stay at home this week for a Thursday night matchup against in-state rival Illinois.