The work goes on, the cause endures, hope still lives, and the dream has not died. The 12th-seeded Gophers opened the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis by knocking off the Northwestern Wildcats 74-57, outscoring Northwestern 45-26 in the second half after trailing by three going into the break.
Daniel Oturu led the way with 24 points as the Gophers connected on 12-of-24 threes, including a blistering 9-14 in the second half, powered the win, though the game itself was overshadowed by the announcement midway through the first half that the remainder of the tournament would be played without fans as a containment measure against the coronavirus pandemic.
“We did a terrific job of adjusting in the second half,” said coach Richard Pitino after the game. “We’re playing good basketball, we’ve just had a couple bounces not go our way. But I think we’re a good team.”
The bounces went their way tonight. Here’s what went down from Indianapolis:
A tale of two halves. The Gophers have started slow on a number of occasions this year, and tonight it nearly cost them at the most inopportune time. Minnesota was just 1-10 from the field before an Isaiah Ihnen three with 13:25 left woke them up. The team recovered to finish the half 9-30 from the field, but shot just 3-10 from distance – Gabe Kalscheur was 0-5 – and was out-scored 16-8 in the paint and 12-5 off the bench as Northwestern took a 31-29 lead into the locker room.
Thankfully, there was another half to play. The U came out firing, going 5-6 in the first 3:25 of the second with Kalscheur and Demir nailing threes, Kalscheur and Oturu hitting jumpers, and Demir following up his own miss at the rim, turning the deficit into a 43-36 lead. Minnesota went 17-35 from the field overall after the break, with back-to-back threes by Payton Willis and a third by Oturu on three consecutive possessions midway through punctuating a 16-2 that put the game away for good.
“I always have confidence in myself to shoot and knock down open shots,” said Willis after the game. “It just so happened those two plays we had good ball movement and I was the recipient.”
Second-half three-point shooting. The total is above, but let’s dive into it just a bit more. After setting a school-record with 18 made threes on Sunday against Nebraska, the Gophers came out cold, going just 3-10 in the first half. They then went a ridiculous 9-14 in the second as Willis, Carr, Kalscheur, Oturu, Demir, and Tre’ Williams all hit from beyond the arc.
“Their three-point shooting can be devastating when they get going,” said Northwestern Chris Collins after the game.
Of additional note is that Kalscheuer, who tied a program record going 8-11 on Sunday, was just 1-8, a number that seems likely to improve moving forward. If the Gophers shoot anywhere close to that and Kalscheur returns to the median, up they’ll have a run in them yet.
Daniel Oturu. Fresh off of being named Minnesota’s first all-American since Quincy Lewis in 1999, receiving a Sporting News third-team selection on Wednesday afternoon, Oturu came to play. He essentially kept the team in the game the first half with 15 of the Gophers’ 29 points, making the most of his ten trips to the line by converting on eight of them. Oturu finished with 24 points and 8 rebounds on 6-10 shooting and a perfect 2-2 from three, a number that could’ve been much higher had he not sat the final nine minutes.
Any extra motivation from being named second-team all-conference earlier in the week?
“Not really,” said Oturu. “We just came in prepared for Northwestern and we just tried to get a win and that’s what we did.”
It wasn’t pretty from start to finish, but the Gophers ultimately took care of business and live to fight another day. They’ll take on fifth-seeded Iowa tomorrow at roughly 2:25 p.m., about 25 minutes after the end of the noon game, without fans in attendance.