It wasn't always pretty, but the Gophers men's basketball team found enough offense down the stretch to hold off a game Northwestern Wildcats team.
Blake Hoffarber almost single-handedly pulled the Gophers from the jaws of defeat with some cluctch shooting down the stretch. He finished with a game-high 20 points and went 5 for 8 from beyond the arc. Lawrence Westbrook added 18 points and Minnesota's interior defense was stellar (11 bocks).
The final was 65-61, and it was that close, even if it shouldn't have been.
The Gophers seemed to be pulling away late in the first half and then early in the second half. But then Northwestern began to use its 1-3-1 defense and Minnesota's offense was almost completely shut down. GN discussed how to attack the 1-3-1 in his game preview but the Gophers somehow seemed unprepared. They held a 12 point lead and all of the game's momentum until the WIldcats went to their zone defense. A handful of minutes later, Northwestern had stormed back to take a lead thanks to Minnesota's inability to handle the zone. Many of Minnesota's 15 turnovers came during the final 15 minutes of the second half once Northwestern went to zone. It baffles me how coming into a game against Northwestern a team can be unprepared to handle a 1-3-1.
But enough with the negatives, the Gophers beat a potential NCAA Tournament team in a game that even Tubby Smith reportedly said was a must-win for the team.
Minnesota's superiority on the inside can also be noted in the team's 35-27 rebounding advantage. Ralph Sampson III had 7 rebounds to go with his 3 blocks. Colton Iverson came in to spell Sampson and continued disrupting shots on the interior--he finished with 4 blocks. It was the interior defense that surely won this game for Minnesota. Northwestern was relegated to shooting from the outside, something the Wildcats do very well. But without any inside presence, the Gophers had the advantage.
Devoe Joseph's second game as the starting point guard was OK, but his 4 turnovers are far too many for our starting point guard. Damian Johnson continued to find himself in foul trouble. Paul Carter came in off the bench to fill in for DJ for most of the game.
On Northwestern, this team is very good and it scares me to think how good they could be if they still had Kevin Coble on the floor. Freshman guard Drew Crawford is going to be a very, very good player in this conference. John Shurna can beat teams in a number of ways and the Wildcats have consistent three point threats in Shurna, Mychael Thompson, Jerry Nash and Luka Mirkovic. With Coble, Northwestern's team depth and interior presence would be less harmful.
All in all a good win for the Gophers and it gives the team plenty to work on before heading to Northwestern later in the schedule. If I'm Bill Carmody, I make the Gophers beat the 1-3-1 for 40 minutes in the game at Evanston.
Next up is Ohio State. This is another opportunity for the team to grab a quality win and a season sweep over the Buckeyes.