Coach Bill Carmody went to the locker room at the end of the first half with a Bo Ryan-esque grin on his face. He was about to put a positive spin on his first half tactics.
It was a poor offensive outing for his Wildcats in the opening, but the team’s stiff defense forced Minnesota to only 17 points. The decision to install a 1-3-1 zone defense stifled the Gophers.
The grin did not stay long when the second half began. Carmody’s same 1-3-1 zone was carved open.
Austin Hollins led Minnesota with 19 points, jetting to a 69-51 victory at home. The junior drained five three-pointers in a matter of minutes for Minnesota. His stellar performance ignited a 24-8 run during the middle of the second half.
After yielding only 17 points to Minnesota in the opening half, Northwestern conceded 52 points to the Tubby Smith’s squad in the final 20 minutes.
The Gophers (14-1, 2-0) handled shooting adversity from the rest of the starting lineup Sunday night. No other player notched double-digits, and the team barely shot over 60 percent from the free-throw line.
Minnesota senior Rodney Williams finished with nine points Sunday. It was his third-lowest point total this season, but it did not stop from forward from making headlines.
With just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half, Williams took an easy pass in the paint from Maverick Ahanmisi. He shook a defender and made a simple layup.
It was one Williams will remember forever.
With the two-pointer, the senior from the Twin Cities became the 38th member of the 1,000-point club in Golden Gopher basketball history. Later in the half, he nabbed his 500th career rebound.
Williams has a chance this season to be the first player in Minnesota history with career totals of 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists, and 150 blocks.
With the win over Northwestern (9-6, 0-2), Smith has his team on a tear as it enters a two-game road trip against the Big Ten elite. The first real road trip of the season will be a tough one for the Gophers. The team travels to Illinois and Indiana this week.
Reggie Hearn returned to Northwestern lineup on Sunday night. He accumulated a team-high 11 points for the Wildcats.
The lack of offensive continuity showed in Carmody’s lineup. The game plan was to slow the tempo as much as possible. It worked in the first half when Northwestern took 25 seconds or more on each possession and finished with a made three. In the first 12 minutes of play, each team only shot the ball 12 times.
After a while, the Gopher lineup began to look more active defensively. Blocked shots and turnovers allowed Minnesota to expand its lead, and it forced the Wildcats out of its element.
Mbakwe added two high-flying dunks in the game to go along with 11 rebounds and four blocks. In an impressive stretch, the senior blocked Alex Olah on one end of the court and finished the play with a fierce slam. The play put a stamp on a key run for the Gophers.
This is the first 10-game win streak for Minnesota since 2008.