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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern defeats Minnesota 75-62 on Senior Night

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A 20-point first half lead was all that was needed.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, Ill. — A regular season filled with low notes ended on a high one.

In the seniors’ home finale, Northwestern (14-15, 7-13 B1G) took down the Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-16, 4-16 B1G) 75-62 behind a strong first half performance from the Wildcats.

Pete Nance led the ‘Cats with 19 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks. He also shot 3-for-4 from three. Jamison Battle led the Golden Gophers with 20 points and 6 rebounds.

It was only fitting that the seniors kickstarted NU’s offensive attack. Nance opened the scoring with a fadeaway jumper. After a few empty possessions, Ryan Greer responded to an Eylijah Stephens three-pointer with a midrange score and a pair of free throws. Nance and Robbie Beran then added threes, forcing Ben Johnson to take a timeout with the ‘Cats up 12-3.

That timeout didn’t stop Northwestern from building on its offensive firepower in the next few minutes, though. Ty Berry drained a triple and Ryan Young established his paint presence with two quick layups. After Beran made two more shots from long range, the Wildcats extended their lead to 27-9 with just under 11 minutes remaining in the half.

With a turnaround from Nance, the lead grew to twenty. Through 10 minutes, Minnesota shot just 27 percent from the field in comparison to NU’s 58 percent clip.

Battle ended a three minute scoring drought for the Golden Gophers with a midrange jumper. He followed up a contested layup from Chase Audige with an and-one, leaving the score at 31-16 heading into the under-eight media timeout.

Following the break, Nance kept up his great shooting with another three-pointer. Both teams then began to trade scores. Berry set up Young twice, allowing the center to drain three free throws. Battle responded with a layup, but Young banked in another interior score. Stephens and Payton Willis then drained jumpers to make the score 41-25 in Northwestern’s favor with under three minutes in the half.

Boo Buie put back his own miss to maintain the offensive momentum. A few possessions later, Nance closed out the period with his third long range bomb, which gave the ‘Cats a 46-26 lead heading into the break.

After Battle swished a corner three to begin the second half, Beran converted a three-point play on the other end. Willis answered with two layups, but a Julian Roper triple off a one-handed feed from Nance allowed NU to maintain a 52-33 lead.

Battle continued carrying Minnesota’s offensive load with two more scores. In between them, Buie cashed in a jumper to extend the Northwestern edge to 54-37 going into the half’s first media timeout. Besides that, however, the scoring was slow to open the final 20 minutes.

The Golden Gophers then built some momentum of their own. Sean Sutherlin’s fastbreak layup off a Beran turnover punctuated an 8-0 Minnesota run. It cut their deficit to 54-43 and forced Chris Collins to call a timeout.

On the next possession, Elyjah Williams ended NU’s drought with an open three-pointer from the wing. After another short break, Nance bullied his way into a second-chance layup in the low post.

Other than a contested Stephens jumper as the shot clock expired, both teams came up empty the next few possessions. To stop a Minnesota fastbreak, Nance rose up and blocked a dunk attempt from Sutherlin at the rim. The senior Wildcat recorded another rejection on the ensuing inbound play. His thrilling defense helped Northwestern hold a 59-45 edge with under eight minutes to play.

After a timeout, Nance kept up his stellar play with another fadeaway jumper in the post. A few possessions later, Willis, Sutherlin and Luke Loewe all knocked down three-pointers to bring the Golden Gophers within single digits for the first time in over 30 minutes. With under four minutes left, NU led 63-55.

Both teams traded empty possessions and a few missed free throws, leaving Minnesota down but not out. But a bucket from Nance — who scored the 1,000th point of his Northwestern career on the play — gave the ‘Cats a 67-55 edge.

With under two minutes to play, the Golden Gophers began to intentionally foul. The Wildcats made most of their free throws to put the game away.

The 12th-seeded ‘Cats will head to Indianapolis to take on Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday at 5 p.m. CT. You can catch the action on the Big Ten Network.