Well, the winning was fun while it lasted.
The Northwestern men’s basketball team (8-23, 3-17 B1G) lost to Minnesota (15-16, 8-12 B1G) 74-57 in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday, in a match that the team would likely prefer to forget. After taking a two-point lead into halftime, the Wildcats were outscored by 21 points in the second-half, as the Golden Gophers made it rain with nine second-half three-balls.
“I'm really proud of my group. I thought we played a very good first half tonight,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said after the game. “I thought we were defending well. We were doing a good job … And then in the second half, it got away from us.”
It was a rough performance across the board. Sophomore Pete Nance led the team in scoring, coming off the bench to swish 15 points, while also swatting two blocks and dishing three assists. Redshirt first-year Ryan Young led the starters with nine points, while Pat Spencer had eight points and eight rebounds.
On the other side, Minnesota dominated. Superstar sophomore center Daniel Oturu was everywhere, scoring 24 points and grabbing eight rebounds, while sophomore guard Marcus Guard showed off his range, shooting 4-for-6 from three-point range enroute to 14 points. Junior Payton Willis also scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds.
It didn’t start as a one-sided affair, however. The two teams both struggled to find the net in the first half, being tied at four after six minutes of play. After both teams woke up, Nance and Kopp paced the ’Cats to trade buckets with the Gophers, finally gaining a 31-29 lead going into halftime.
That’s when things started to go downhill, as the ’Cats saw the Gophers open yet another shooting clinic on them; Minnesota would go on a 25-7 run, swishing nine threes to put the game, and Northwestern’s season, officially on ice.
“Their three point shooting can be really devastating when they get going,” Collins said. “With us only hitting five threes, that's a minus 21 at the three point line. That's hard against anybody to make up.”
The game ended a rough season for Northwestern, who managed only eight total wins and three in-conference victories. It also marked the end of the college basketball road for three Wildcats: grad transfer Pat Spencer, senior A.J. Turner, and redshirt junior Tino Malnati. According to Collins and the players, however, nobody saw this season as a failure, instead seeing it as one of development and growth.
“We're using this game and this season really as motivation, going into the offseason, going into next season,” Miller Kopp said postgame. “Our heads are up. This season was tough, but we have used — and will use — every loss, every trial and tribulation as motivation going into the offseason.”
“We got a great young group moving forward, and we're all gonna put our heads down and just work,” Pete Nance added. “We have a lot to prove, and I know that we believe that we can accomplish a lot, and that's what's most important. And we're going to stick together and just get to work and we're going to get a lot better and we'll be back.”
Northwestern's game against Minnesota on Wednesday was only one of two played in the 2020 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament (along with Nebraska versus Indiana), as the conference announced on Thursday that the rest of the games will not be played due to the threat of the COVID-19 virus.
The beloved NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament was canceled later the same day, after having been planned to occur without fans in attendance, along with other NCAA sports tournaments for winter and spring sports.