Men's basketball: Gophers edge Wildcats
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
EVANSTON, Ill. — Gophers coach Richard Pitino ended up making the coaching move of the game Sunday by sitting leading scorer Andre Hollins with six seconds left in the first half of a 55-48 win at Northwestern.
Pitino noticed that Hollins was fatigued.
So in came point guard DeAndre Mathieu to sink a buzzer-beating three-pointer off a high ball screen to reduce the deficit to three points at halftime.
“That was luck as a coach,” Pitino admitted. “He shot a three. I wouldn’t have told him to do it. But he did. I think more than anything it helped (Mathieu), because he was down a little bit in the first half mentally.”
That was enough to spark Mathieu, who scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half to help the Gophers snap a five-game Big Ten road losing streak.
“The three kind of got my confidence going a little bit,” said Mathieu, who was 5 of 6 from the field in the second half. “Coach lit a fire under me at halftime. He’s good at getting me going even though he shouldn’t have to. He’s good at letting me know, even though he’s hollering at me, don’t listen to the tone, listen to the message. I just appreciate having a coach like that.”
Minnesota (17-9, 6-7 Big Ten) won its first game at Northwestern since 2008. It was critical to keep Pitino’s program on the NCAA tournament bubble.
“We really don’t talk about that at all,” he said. “Since our game versus Northwestern at our place, we didn’t enjoy playing in that game. Ever since then, we’ve done a better job of that.”
Pitino lit into Mathieu and the rest of his players at halftime after they had committed 10 of their 17 turnovers.
The Gophers, who avenged a 55-54 home loss to Northwestern, also had eight turnovers in the first half of Thursday’s 68-60 loss at Wisconsin.
Mathieu didn’t play particularly well offensively in the first half of that game, either, with just eight points on 3-for-10 shooting. He also had just nine points in the Northwestern loss after he and Mo Walker blew a chance to win the game with point-blank misses in the final seconds.
But Mathieu wasn’t off his game Sunday, scoring 10 of his team’s first 14 points in the second half to take control.
“In that second half, he was aggressive off ball screens getting to the rim,” Pitino said. “He’s hard to guard when he gets going like that.”
But a one-man show wasn’t enough. Minnesota’s defense had to finish strong.
After Mathieu’s layup tied the score 39-39, JerShon Cobb nailed a jumper to give his team a two-point lead with 10:05 left.
Cobb had a game-high 23 points for the Wildcats (12-14, 5-8), but he was held scoreless for the rest of the game after also getting into foul trouble.
Minnesota had arguably its best defensive team effort in Big Ten play, holding Drew Crawford 14 points under his average with just two on 1-for-15 shooting.
Pitino said freshman guard Daquein McNeil, Andre Hollins and senior guard Austin Hollins all helped in guarding Crawford and Cobb and trapping them throughout the game.
Walker also helped to protect the paint with three blocks off the bench.
The 6-10 junior said Pitino showed a clip of the end of the Northwestern loss before Sunday’s game.
It was a devastating sequence to overcome emotionally for the Gophers, especially Walker and Mathieu. But both responded well and made an impact in the rematch.
“The last one was tough,” said Walker, who had eight points and six rebounds Sunday. “Coach actually showed a clip of those last few seconds of the game. Everybody in the locker room was pretty quiet and stuff. We knew we were coming in with a vengeance. It was like a revenge game for us. We knew we had to settle the score.”
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