Sixty-one days later, and Northwestern finally found a way to win.
The Wildcats earned their first win of 2021, defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers 67-59. Despite a very sloppy start, Northwestern managed to pull out a solid win against a bubble team.
Boo Buie was the hero for the ‘Cats, leading all scorers with 25 points, 19 of which came in the second half. He also shot a perfect 12-of-12 from the charity stripe. After a bit of a slump, Miller Kopp finally had the standout game he needed, adding 15 points of his own on 5-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-2 from deep.
The first half wasn’t pretty. Northwestern struggled out of the gate, falling into a 14-point hole after a 13-0 Minnesota run over a 6:47 scoreless period. In the first seven minutes of the game, the Wildcats turned the ball over seven times, which the Gophers converted into nine early points, and only scored three points on five shot attempts of their own. Out of their first 13 possessions, Northwestern turned the ball over on eight of them.
After a Ty Berry three-point play broke the Wildcats’ cold streak, Northwestern fired back with its own 16-2 run to tie the game at 19. After a Minnesota timeout to stop NU’s momentum, the Gophers came out firing — responding with a 9-0 run to open their lead back to eight points.
Both teams struggled from beyond the arc, with the Wildcats shooting 3-for-10 and Minnesota shooting 1-for-12 in the first 20 minutes.
The Gophers maintained a 31-25 lead at the half, taking advantage of the Wildcats’ carelessness with the ball that resulted in 12 first-half turnovers.
The second half was a different story. The Wildcats opened the final frame with a 12-0 run, powered by eight points from Buie and four from Kopp, taking a 37-31 lead.
The Wildcats expanded their lead up to seven before the Gophers took back the lead with an 8-0 run of their own after seven minutes of Northwestern leading. With seven minutes to play, NU tied it back up at 46 with a pair of free throws from Buie.
The two teams traded buckets with Minnesota making their first three in 17 shots to cling to a one-point lead with five minutes left. The Gophers shot a miserable 4-for-27 from deep on the night.
Back-to-back buckets from Kopp saw the Wildcats take a four-point lead with 3:46 left.
A clutch three from Buie dealt a near-fatal blow to Minnesota, expanding the lead to seven with 1:20 remaining. The advantage was too much for the Gophers to recover from with under a minute to play, and the Wildcats earned their first win in two months, handing Minnesota a devastating loss that crushes its NCAA tournament dreams.
Marcus Carr led the Gophers’ efforts with 21 points while Jamal Mashburn and Brandon Johnson pitched in 13 and 10, respectively.
Thursday’s win ensures that the Wildcats have surpassed their win total from last season. The Wildcats have almost a week-long break to enjoy the win before they face Maryland on March 3 at 8 p.m. CST on the Big Ten Network.