In a draining double-overtime loss at Purdue on Thursday, sophomores Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur and redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr accounted for 69 of Minnesota's 78 points. Against Northwestern, a more balanced Gophers offense helped them get back in the win column.
Four Gophers scored in double figures as Minnesota (8-6, 2-2 Big Ten) defeated Northwestern (5-8, 0-3 Big Ten) 77-68. Head coach Richard Pitino said he was happy with his team's energy following the defeat three days earlier.
"Mentally and physically, everybody left everything out there at Purdue," Pitino told the media. "It was difficult to prepare for this game because we were tired. We tried to scale down practice. I was concerned going into this game with that but, obviously, when you build a 23-point lead on a Big Ten opponent that's great."
To defend Minnesota, Northwestern came out playing a zone defense focused on denying Oturu from scoring in the paint. Oturu, who scored 29 points against Purdue, started slow on Sunday as Northwestern held the early lead before the Gophers looked outside for points.
A slew of Gophers made 3-pointers in the first half as Minnesota started 6-13 from behind the arc. Eight minutes into the game, senior Alihan Demir hit a three to give the Gophers their first lead of the evening at 14-11. That basket sparked a barrage of three consecutive Minnesota possessions with a made 3-pointer.
"We anticipated they would play some zone," Pitino told the media. "They had a week off and then some injuries. I thought we did a good job attacking it."
Near the end of the first half, the outside shots stopped falling for Minnesota, but the Gophers still went to the locker room with a 34-25 lead. After the break, Oturu began finding success down low, helping Minnesota score 20 points in the paint in the second half, compared to 10 in the opening period.
Before freshman Isaiah Ihnen connected on a 3-pointer with 10:16 remaining in the game, the Gophers had missed 10-straight shots from behind the arc. On the possession following the Ihnen three, a Northwestern turnover led to a breakaway dunk from freshman Tre' Williams, who had a career high 10 points.
The Williams slam capped a 13-0 Minnesota run, which prompted Wildcats head coach Chris Collins to call time out. Northwestern sophomore Miller Kopp quickly responded with three-straight 3-pointers, starting a 14-2 Wildcats run that cut the Gophers' lead to 11.
Momentum squarely turned against Minnesota before Demir finally turned the tide, fighting to secure a clutch offensive rebound off a missed 3-pointer from Kalscheur. Demir then turned and fed Oturu for a two-handed jam through contact. Oturu then made the free throw to complete the 3-point play.
"Alihan is rebounding the ball, he wasn't rebounding the ball great early [in the season]" Pitino told the media. "He's getting in there and scrapping."
Although the Wildcats battled until the final buzzer, Minnesota kept them at arm's length for the final six minutes. The Gophers converted all 19 of their free throws and out-rebounded Northwestern 43-28 to close out the evening with a victory.
Leading the Gophers with 19 points and 16 boards, Oturu also ended the game with five blocks. Carr was not far behind with 17 points while contributing seven assists. Demir finished with 11 points and was one rebound shy of a double-double. Pitino said he was pleased with his team's ability to find multiple sources for scoring.
"That's what we want, we want a balanced attack," Pitino told the media. "I think that we are sharing the ball well, 19 assists which is good. Then, obviously shooting a good percentage."
Northwestern's Pat Spencer led all scorers with 22 points. Kopp (14) and redshirt freshman Ryan Young (10) also scored in double figures for Northwestern.
Now in the thick of Big Ten play, Minnesota's schedule takes a step up in competition on Thursday when they face a challenge on the road against No. 14 Michigan State.