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Northwestern stymies Minnesota, 55-48

The SportsXchange

EVANSTON, Ill. -- It's the defense many Big Ten teams just can't seem to crack.

Minnesota was the latest to struggle against Northwestern's increasingly effective 1-3-1 defense in the Wildcats' stunning 55-48 victory over the No. 12 Gophers Wednesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The win was the Wildcats' second over a nationally ranked team in a week. Last Thursday, they beat No. 23 Illinois 68-54 at Assembly Hall.

"I think they got frustrated with the 1-3-1," Northwestern senior Reggie Hearn said. "They couldn't figure it out."

Jared Swopshire scored 16 points, Hearn collected 13 and Tre Demps added 10 as the Wildcats (12-8, 3-4) won their second in three games. They also extended their home winning streak over the Gophers to five.

Trevor Mbakwe led the Gophers (15-4, 3-3) with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Minnesota has dropped three straight.

The Wildcats turned 15 Gopher turnovers into points and held the Big Ten's top 3-point team to 5 of 19 (26.3 percent) as the visitors missed 12 straight long-distance shots.

"Our zone helped a lot," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "It forced some turnovers and made them a little flat-footed."

Minnesota was 18 of 54 (33.3 percent) but just 7 of 17 from the free-throw line. The Gophers' 48 points were a season low.

Northwestern was a more respectable 17 of 40 (42.5 percent) shooting but also struggled on the free-throw line (17 of 32).

"I was very impressed with their gutsy effort, their toughness -- something we really didn't show tonight," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. "We didn't seem to have the focus we should a have.

"But a lot of that has to do with Northwestern. They do a good job with the 1-3-1. I'm disappointed we didn't get better; we didn't play very smart."

Northwestern rallied from a 34-27 second-half deficit behind six points from Hearn and grabbed a 40-39 lead with 10:25 to play on Alex Marcotullio's 3-pointer.

Three minutes later, Demps dropped a baseline 3-pointer that launched a 10-2 Northwestern run on the way to a 50-41 lead with 3:44 to play.

Minnesota (15-4, 3-3) replied with a Julian Welch jumper and a tip-in by Mbakwe with 1:44 left to trim the Northwestern lead to 50-45.

The Wildcats hit 2 of 5 free throws over the next 70 seconds -- one apiece by Dave Sobolewski and Swopshire -- to open a 52-45 lead. Andre Hollins broke a lengthy Minnesota 3-point shooting slump with a long-distance shot with 35 seconds left.

But Hearn secured the win by hitting hit 3 of 4 free throws in the last 28 seconds.

The Gophers held a tenuous 27-24 halftime edge after leading much of the opening 20 minutes.

But, less than eight minutes in the second half, leading scorer Austin Hollins (14.1 points) fouled out. He finished with just six points.

Carmody sat freshman Kale Abrahamson, who had started six straight Big Ten games but had scored only five points in his last three. Demps, a redshirt freshman, got the start instead -- his first in conference play.

NOTES: Minnesota was the third straight ranked foe for Northwestern. The Wildcats split the first two games, beating No. 23 Illinois 68-54 at Assembly Hall on Jan. 17 and then falling to No. 2 Indiana 67-59 last Sunday. ... Gopher guard Andre Hollins earned mention among the Big Ten's top performers this week after posting a career-high 21 points last week against Michigan. Entering Wednesday, he was 16 of 27 in 3-point shooting in his last four games, best in the Big Ten in that span. ... Hearn was also cited by the league for 20 points in a road win at Illinois and 22 last Sunday at home against Indiana ... Northwestern had four straight wins at home over Minnesota going back to 2009, but the Gophers had two straight victories coming in -- a Big Ten tourney win last March and a 69-51 victory at Williams Arena on Jan. 6. Minnesota led by just three at halftime in that game but blew it open in the second half as Hollins closed with 19 points ... Both teams are on the road Saturday with Minnesota at Wisconsin and Northwestern visiting Nebraska.

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