MINNEAPOLIS — The storm in Minnesota that dropped more than a foot of snow on campus kept Northwestern from traveling the night before the game.
The well-rested Wildcats arrived about eight hours before tipoff and wore down the banged-up Gophers with a seasoned, spirited rally.
Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law scored 18 points apiece for Northwestern, leading the comeback Tuesday from a 10-point deficit to beat reeling Minnesota 77-69.
“Everyone knows the struggles we’ve had throughout the year to try to find ourselves as a team. We feel like in the last two weeks we’re starting to play good basketball,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “This was a big game.”
Scottie Lindsey added 15 points, Dererk Pardon pitched in 10 points and eight rebounds and Law pulled down 13 rebounds himself for the Wildcats (13-9, 4-5 Big Ten), who won their second straight game after losing five of their previous seven contests.
“We’ve just got to continue to play with pace, with pop, and play together,” McIntosh said, “and I think we can be a really good team.”
Nate Mason had 25 points and nine assists for the Gophers (14-9, 3-7), who lost for the sixth time in their last seven games. Amir Coffey scored 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting, but he had five fouls and five turnovers in another collapse down the stretch by the team’s half-court offense and collective belief.
“We’re obviously tired and undermanned,” coach Richard Pitino said.
Both of these teams, fresh from NCAA Tournament appearances that were the first in four years for the Gophers and the first ever for the Wildcats, started their schedule with Big Ten title aspirations and preseason rankings in the Associated Press poll. Northwestern fell out of the Top 25 in three weeks, despite four returning starters. Minnesota dropped from the rankings three weeks after that, with a lack of depth exposed.
This contest certainly qualified as a swing game in the muddled middle of the Big Ten, with Northwestern’s 83-60 victory over Minnesota at home the difference entering the evening.
After Mason beat the shot-clock buzzer with less than 13 minutes left to give Minnesota a 52-47 lead, the Northwestern rally ratcheted up. Aaron Falzon stole the ball from a double-teamed Jordan Murphy down low and fed Lindsey for a fast-break layup to pull the Wildcats within 52-51, the closest they’d come since 16-15.
On the first of three straight baskets by McIntosh, the senior point guard who’s the all-time program leader in assists, the Wildcats retook the lead at 60-59 with 7:37 left and never lost it again. Coffey’s dunk with 4:12 remaining brought the Gophers within 66-63, but that was the last time they made it a one-possession game.
The Gophers shot just 9 for 29 from the field in the second half, including 3 for 14 from 3-point range.
“You always feel like you’re stealing a game when you win on the road,” Collins said.
Northwestern: The Wildcats came through in the clutch in a difficult place to play, their experience and confidence complementing a cranked-up second half defense to take over down the stretch.
“There’s a senior class that this means something to,” Collins said. “They’ve been part of the growth of our program and the build over these last four years. They want to finish it right.”
Minnesota: Pitino sent out his fifth different starting lineup in 10 conference games, giving power forward Davonte Fitzgerald his first career start in the latest maneuver to account for the absence of center Reggie Lynch due to the university investigation into sexual assault allegations against him.
With the snow triggering hundreds of canceled flights into Minneapolis on Monday, Collins decided to avoid a long airport wait by rescheduling the trip for Tuesday and giving his players a full night of rest.
“Everybody approached it really well. We didn’t let it be a distraction or an excuse coming into the game,” Collins said.
Gophers shooting guard Dupree McBrayer’s left shin area acted up again near the end of the half, and he needed assistance to leave the court, but he returned after halftime to play through the pain. Coffey’s right shoulder is still ailing.
“Growing up with my mom, she always taught me to be tough,” McBrayer said. “So even though I’m hurting, I still try to go out there and help any way I can.”
Mason has been one of the few constants on this team, and he stepped up like a senior point guard is counted on to do, scoring 12 straight points for the Gophers in one stretch past the midpoint of the first half to help them stretch their lead to a game-high 34-24. They made 13 of their first 19 shots from the floor, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range.
“He played terrific, especially being down,” McBrayer said. “He’s a great player. He’s leading us the best way he can.”
Northwestern: Returns to the road next week to play at Michigan, which is currently ranked 25th in the AP poll, on Monday and at Wisconsin on Feb. 1.
Minnesota: Plays at Iowa on Jan. 30 after a six-day break between games, followed by a trip to Michigan on Feb. 3.