Minnesota defeated Northwestern 70-66 in the house of horrors that has been Evanston. The Gophers overcame a four point halftime deficit and a putrid start to the second half to get the win. Minnesota is now 2-1 in conference play and 14-2 on the season. Nate Mason made eight straight free throws to end the game. Amir Coffey led all Minnesota scorers with 17 points.
Both teams began the game hot and made nearly every shot before regressing back to a normal shooting percentage. Amir Coffey began the game with two straight three pointers and a blocked shot. Coffey has been somewhat quiet on offense the last two games, but bounced back in a big way tonight. I liked that Pitino ran some offense especially for the freshman, and that Coffey responded. Coffey added four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and the aforementioned block to his stat line. Two of his assists were highlight reel. The first was a lovely pass around a defender’s back to Reggie Lynch for a dunk. The second was a threaded bounce pass under a defender’s hand and through (I think) another defender’s leg for a layup.
In the second half, Minnesota’s defense was excellent. The Gophers held Northwestern to 1-15 from three point distance in the second half. As the Wildcats are a good three point shooting team, that cannot be attributed to a slump. Minnesota had a hand in the face of every three point shooter. That is not to say that the Gophers did not play like a young team at times. For about seven minutes of the second half, Minnesota made as many bad decisions on offense as possible. That ended when the Gophers recommitted to feed Reggie Lynch in the post. The junior had 12 points and eight rebounds to go along with just three fouls. As important, he was 4-4 from the free throw line.
Nate Mason sealed another game by making eight straight free throws. He had a bit of an offensive regression, only shooting 2-8 from the field, but was clutch when he needed to be. One of the most impressive parts of his game this season has been influencing the game when his shot is not falling. He had seven assists, and should have had two more if the Gophers could have made some open shots.
Michael Hurt hit an open three. He also grabbed a rebound. Hurt has become the primary replacement for Coffey off the bench.
Jordan Murphy had seven points and seven rebounds. He also almost threw down a dunk that would have been on a poster for years. Sadly, he was about six inches too far away from the basket.
In other dunk related notes, Nia Coffey screamed “That’s my brother” when Amir Coffey had a big two handed slam on a breakaway.
Dupree McBrayer had an off night. Northwestern is a tough matchup for the sophomore because they clog driving lanes. I liked that he feels confident about his three point shot. I would have liked it a lot more if any of his attempts had gone in. Like Hurt earlier in the season, McBrayer’s form looks fine, so the shots should fall soon.
Minnesota next plays Ohio State. The Gophers should be favored. This is much more fun than last season.