Down to their final five games of the year and sitting one game under .500, the Gophers entered Sunday in need of a victory to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Unable to afford another slip-up, Minnesota returned to the win column in decisive fashion.
Behind 14 made 3-point shots and 22 points from sophomore Daniel Oturu, Minnesota (13-13, 7-9 Big Ten) defeated Northwestern (6-20, 1-15 Big Ten) 83-57 in Evanston, Illinois. The 26-point victory was the Gophers' largest in Big Ten play this season.
"You win by 26 points on the road in the Big Ten, that's not real easy to do," head coach Richard Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "I thought start to finish, we played really well across the board."
Another hot start on offense saw the Gophers jump out to a 20-12 lead. Oturu scored inside and out in the game's first 10 minutes, knocking down a three and making highlight reels with a one-handed put-back dunk.
Four different Gophers combined to make seven 3-point shots in the first half, as Minnesota built a 44-28 halftime lead. Continuing to lead the charge, Oturu scored 13 points in the half while also contributing eight rebounds.
Improved guard play also helped power the Gophers in the first half. The starting back court of redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr (11), sophomore Gabe Kalscheur (eight) and redshirt junior Payton Willis (six) combined for 25 points before intermission after combining for 30 total in Wednesday's 68-56 loss to Indiana.
"I think when the ball goes in, everyone moves a little better," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "We didn't do a whole lot different with the preparation. Shots just fell and everybody feels better about themselves."
Unlike against Indiana, Minnesota was able to build upon a second-half lead, continuing to pull away from Northwestern in the second half and leading by as many as 29 points. It was only the second true-road victory of the year for the Gophers as they scored 80 points for the first time since Dec. 28 vs. Florida International.
With the 14 successful 3-point shots, the Gophers tied the second-highest single-game total in franchise history. Willis and Kalscheur led the shooting effort with four threes each as both finished with 14 points. This performance was in stark contrast to the Indiana game, in which Minnesota shot 4-25 from beyond the arc.
"The ball went in the basket," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "There wasn't a whole lot different from a game plan, we just made shots."
Oturu had a game-high 22 points and 12 rebounds, shooting 8-11 and completing his 15th double-double of the season. The big man asserted himself as a force in the defensive paint as well with three blocks.
"I thought that was one of the best games [Oturu] played all year," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "He was very efficient."
With 18 points, Carr was not far behind Oturu. The point guard also added seven assists on the afternoon.
Looking ahead, a much greater challenge awaits Minnesota on Wednesday when they host the Big Ten-leading No. 7 Maryland Terrapins. The game presents the Gophers with an opportunity to claim a signature victory, one with the potential to reverse their season's trajectory.