Minnesota speeds up in second half to beat Northwestern

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS - The halftime message from Tubby Smith to his Minnesota team was pretty simple: Keep running, keep pushing the ball up the floor and eventually the pace of the game will speed up.
"It was just so slow, it's frustrating to play that slow," Minnesota's Austin Hollins said of the first half. "We just had to keep trying to push it and play defense and get stops."
That's exactly what happened in the second half of No. 9 Minnesota's 69-51 victory over Northwestern on Sunday. After failing to score a single fastbreak point in the first half, when they were limited to 17 points, the Gophers got going.
Minnesota attacked the rim more aggressively in the second half. The Gophers didn't simply pass the ball around the perimeter of Northwestern's zone defense. And Austin Hollins got hot from behind the 3-point line.
"I told them that the team that went out and started making some shots would take control of the game," Smith said. "That's pretty much what happened."
The Gophers (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) opened the second half on a 13-4 run. When Rodney Williams, who reached the 1,000-point mark in the victory, grabbed an offensive rebound and scored with a little more than seven minutes gone in the second half, Minnesota led by 12 at 30-18.
"We didn't want to keep them in the game," said Trevor Mbakwe, who grabbed 11 rebounds for Minnesota. "We wanted to get in transition and force them to play our tempo."
After Minnesota's initial second-half surge, Austin Hollins stretched Minnesota's lead to more than 20 points. In the span of three-plus minutes, Austin Hollins made five consecutive 3-pointers, two of which came in transition. His long-range shot from the right corner with 8:43 to play gave Minnesota a 45-23 lead and ended Northwestern's upset hopes.
"After I made the first couple, I felt that if I had a little room, I was going to let it go," said Austin Hollins, who finished with a game-high 19 points and a career-high five 3-pointers.
Said Smith: "Thank goodness Austin got going, that changed the momentum of the game."
Northwestern never again got within a dozen points of the Gophers, and the Austin Hollins barrage ensured the 10th victory in a row for Minnesota. The Gophers are one of four Big Ten teams that didn't lose during the first week of conference play. The loss leaves Northwestern (9-6, 0-2) as one of four conference teams without a league victory.
"They got out in transition, they were able to rebound and go," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said of the Gophers. "Mostly they got out in transition and found guys, which they didn't do in the first half."
Austin Hollins was the only Minnesota player in double figures, but Rodney Williams added nine points for the Gophers. Andre Hollins, Minnesota's leading scorer, was limited to seven points and 17 minutes because of foul trouble.
Northwestern got 11 points from Reggie Hearn while Dave Sobolewski added 10.
"We've been having a hard time scoring," Carmody said. "We've got to try to figure out something."
While Minnesota entered the game averaging 75.9 points per game, the Gophers clearly didn't get the game at the pace they wanted in the first half. Extremely patient offensively, Northwestern was content to take 30 seconds or more off of the clock on every possession.
That strategy allowed the Wildcats, who lost their Big Ten opener by 28 points to Michigan, to trail by only three points at halftime, 17-14.
NOTES: The road gets more difficult for Minnesota, the only Big Ten team that has yet to play a conference road game. The Gophers play four of their next five away from Williams Arena, including games at Illinois, No. 5 Indiana, Northwestern and Wisconsin. The only home game in that stretch is against No. 2 Michigan ... This was Northwestern's fourth game away from Welsh-Ryan Arena, and the Wildcats won all three previous games. ... Hearn was back in the Northwestern lineup after missing two games because of an ankle injury. The Wildcats, however, were without Sanjay Lumpkin for the second consecutive game after the freshman was injured in practice.

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