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Rapid Reaction: Minnesota rallies late to knock off Northwestern 51-46 in first round of Big Ten Tournament

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And with that, the pandemic season is over.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Minnesota vs Northwestern Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a valiant second-half effort, Northwestern’s 2020-2021 season came to a close at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Wildcats (9-15, 6-14 B1G) fell to 13-seed Minnesota 51-46 (14-14, 7-13 B1G) in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and extended their postseason losing streak to five games. After overcoming its abysmal start, in which its scored just two points in the first 11 minutes, NU wilted down the stretch and didn’t score in the final 4:15.

Miller Kopp led the way for the Wildcats, finishing with nine points on 4-of-17 shooting. Nance followed close behind with eight points of his own as well as 10 rebounds. Zero Northwestern players finished in double figures.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, both teams started this game somewhat slow, with Minnesota’s Marcus Carr scoring the first basket three minutes in. From there, the Gophers opened up a 16-2 over the first 11 minutes of play. Northwestern’s only basket during this stretch came on a floater from Ryan Greer seven minutes in. The ‘Cats shot 1-of-14 (!) from the field over this span.

Along with the slow start, Chase Audige picked up his second foul just seven-and-a-half minutes into the game. NU’s leading scorer did not see action for the rest of the half.

The Golden Gophers were without Liam Robbins and Gabe Kalscheur yet again, both of whom are key contributors on the boards and on defense. Robbins hadn’t played in four games while Kalscheur had been sidelined since February 16. Their absences didn’t bother the Gophers on the boards. Minnesota out-rebounded Northwestern 22 to 17 in the first half and 41 to 39 on the night.

The Wildcats made just two of their first 16 attempts from the field, and it was looking like their slow start may infect the rest of the half. However, the ‘Cats soon picked things up. Boo Buie scored his first points of the game around the seven-minute mark, and soon, Minnesota led by only 10 points.

The pace continued to pick up a bit, with both teams trading baskets (and turnovers). The ‘Cats used back-to-back steals by Anthony Gaines and Buie to break off a 6-0 run shortly before halftime, forcing Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino to call timeout.

A missed shot by Nance at the buzzer sent Wildcats into the locker room down 27-20.

NU shot just 8-of-31 (26%) in the first half. Miller Kopp led the way with five points on 2-of-10 shooting. The Gophers didn’t score a basket in the final four minutes of the first half.

Minnesota opened the door for NU in the second half, turning the ball over six times in as many minutes. Takeaways played a big role in keeping Northwestern close throughout the game, as the ‘Cats were able to force 17 of them and convert them into 14 points.

Northwestern continued to capitalize on Minnesota’s troubles, as Audige intercepted a pass and took it the length of the court for a dunk to cut the Gophers’ lead to just four points. Minutes later, Ty Berry got involved in the action, intercepting a pass and passing it up to Audige for yet another easy bucket.

The ‘Cats didn’t make it a one-possession game until 10:18 left in the second half on a Buie three. A scoring drought of 4:54 for UMN allowed even an offensively challenged NU to grab its first lead of the game on a Kopp putback layup to go up 40-38 with 7:02 to go.

Following some makes and misses from the charity stripe for both teams, the ‘Cats catapulted out to a seven-point lead due to a strong finish down low from Nance and a three-pointer from Beran.

Then it was NU’s turn to go scoreless. Minnesota broke NU’s extended 16-3 run with eight straight points, as a short Carr jumper reclaimed a 47-46 lead with 1:50 left.

During that stretch, Buie had an opportunity to extend Northwestern’s lead back to five at the free-throw line but missed both attempts. Both teams struggled from the line throughout the game, with the ‘Cats shooting 5-of-12 from the line and the Gophers shooting 10-of-24.

On the next Minnesota possession, Buie negated solid Northwestern defense by fouling Carr on a three-point attempt. Carr hit two of the three free throws to give the Gophers a 49-46 lead with just over a minute to play. Buie proceeded to miss a game-tying three and then turned the ball over on the fastbreak after securing a defensive rebound on the ensuing possession.

The Wildcats had one last shot to keep it close, but a Nance travel with 14.4 seconds iced the game. The Gophers ended the game on a 12-0 run.

NU finishes the season 9-15, while Minnesota will face fifth-seed Ohio State on Thursday afternoon.