EVANSTON, Ill. (AP)—Craig Moore slammed the ball in frustration and yelled at a teammate as they headed to a timeout, his frustration boiling over in the early going.
By the end, he was all smiles.
Moore hit six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points to lead Northwestern over No. 18 Minnesota 74-65 Sunday for its first win against a ranked opponent in nearly three years.
“We knew we were capable,” Moore said. “We just had to finish it.”
Long a Big Ten doormat, the Wildcats (9-6, 1-4) have hinted that better days are coming. Well, this certainly was one.
The Wildcats had not beaten a Top 25 team since a three-point victory over then-No. 18 Iowa on Feb. 8, 2006. They had dropped 26 of 27 Big Ten regular-season games, including their first four this season after going 1-17 in the conference a year ago.
Yet, there they were, going on a 16-0 run early in the second half to grab a 10-point lead and knocking off a Minnesota team that had done nothing but exceed expectations in coach Tubby Smith’s second season. The Golden Gophers’ only other loss was to Michigan State.
So what happened Sunday?
The Gophers (16-2, 4-2) simply stumbled—particularly in the second half— after winning at Wisconsin for the first time in nearly 15 years on Thursday. Northwestern also switched its defense, going from a matchup zone to a 1-3-1, in the second half.
Lawrence Westbrook scored 18 after pouring in 29 against the Badgers and Devoe Johnson added 14, but 19 turnovers and poor shooting in the second half (34.5 percent) did in the Gophers.
Smith called it an “attention-getter” for his team, and it was for Northwestern, too.
“They’re going to win a lot of games, Northwestern,” Smith said.
Minnesota led 34-31 at halftime and Westbrook’s 3-pointer made it a six-point game less than two minutes into the second. From there? The Golden Gophers fell apart.
They missed 12 of their first 13 shots in the half and watched as Northwestern scored 16 straight to take a 47-37 lead. Moore hit three 3-pointers during that stretch, starting it with one and putting the Wildcats ahead 39-37 with another one.
That drew a loud roar from the crowd, but there was plenty more to cheer.
Kevin Coble (20 points) converted a three-point play moments later, pumping his fist as his layup went through the net. He hit the free throw, and after several more misses by Minnesota, Moore made another 3 and fed Coble for a reverse layup after a steal to cap the run with 10:54 left.
Damian Johnson finally converted a layup for Minnesota, but back-to-back layups by Ivan Peljusic bumped Northwestern’s lead to 51-39 midway through the half.
Minnesota never challenged after that.
“Northwestern is a hard team to come back from because of their (Princeton) offense,” Westbrook said. “They slow down the tempo and they use the game clock. If you get down big against them, it’s virtually impossible to come back.”
The Wildcats had already shown they could hang with the best teams in the conference before this game. They just had nothing to show for it.
They failed to protect leads in losses to Penn State and then-No. 10 Michigan State, but the toughest loss came against No. 19 Purdue on Thursday night, when they blew a 14-point lead.
This time, there were no collapses. Just plenty of smiles.
Particularly for Moore, who hit 6 of 9 shots—all of them from 3-point range. And they weren’t the just-beyond-the-arc variety, either.
At times, it seemed, he could have hit one from the parking lot.
“That’s where I practice from,” he said, grinning. “Wherever I’m open, I’m going to shoot it. I don’t know where I am half the time.”
He had no trouble finding his target, though. Nor did Coble when he stepped to the foul line, converting 9 of 9 free throws.
The Wildcats also got a boost off the bench from Jeremy Nash, who finished nine points, six rebounds and three steals while providing the pressure at the top of the zone.
Northwestern got a big boost, period, on Sunday.
“I don’t think we thought of it as ‘Minnesota’s a ranked team so let’s beat them and get our morale going,”’ Nash said. “We just wanted to get that conference win under our belt.”