Minnesota advanced to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament this afternoon with a 66-53 win over Northwestern at Conseco Field House. Lawrence Westbrook scored 14 points to lead the Gophers, who will face Michigan State tomorrow at noon. Minnesota improved to 22-9 on the year while Northwestern falls to 17-13.
Minnesota used a 14-0 run late in the second half to pull out the win. The Gophers had built a 12-point lead early in the second half but the Gophers went on a four-minute scoring drought that allowed Northwestern to go on a 10-0 run to take the lead at 49-47 with under eight minutes remaining. However, the Gophers used solid defense to re-emerge. A Ralph Sampson three-point play ignited the Gopher 14-0 run that included seven points from Westbrook. The Gophers held Northwestern without a field goal for over seven minutes during the run. Damian Johnson, who had eight points, seven boards and three blocks, shut down Northwestern's Kevin Coble in the second half, limiting him to just two second half points after scoring 19 in the first stanza.
The Gophers held Northwestern to just 32.7 percent shooting for the game and held Craig Moore to just 3-16 shooting and eight points. The Gophers forced 13 Wildcat turnovers that led to 18 points.
Devron Bostick provided a huge spark for Minnesota with 11 points and four rebounds, leading a Gopher bench that netted 29 points. Ralph Sampson added nine points, six rebounds and five blocks. Overall, Minnesota blocked a school tournament record 11 shots.
The Gophers broke open the game midway through the first half. After Kevin Coble scored Northwestern's first eight points and put the Cats up 8-6, Devron Bostick gave the Gophers a boost off the bench and started a 16-0 run. Bostick hit a three and put back a Blake Hoffarber miss to put the Gophers up 13-8. After a Devoe Joseph three, Colton Iverson picked off a Wildcat pass and took it the distance for a fastbreak dunk. A Bostick dunk capped the 16-0 run, giving the Gophers a 22-8 lead with 8:18 left.
The Wildcats pulled within nine at 22-13 but the Gophers managed to keep a double-digit lead for much of the remainder of the half. Bostick capped an impressive 12-minute stretch of playing time with a driving layup at the 3:14 mark to give the Gophers a 29-17 lead. The Gophers went through a bit of a dry spell toward the end of the half, going without a field goal for the last 3:14. A Coble three a the buzzer closed the Gopher lead to 31-25 at the half. Coble scored 19 of the Wildcats' 25 points in the half. Bostick led the Gophers with 11. The Gophers were able to force 10 turnovers that led to 11 points.
A 6-0 Gopher run on consecutive threes by Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson pushed the Minnesota lead to 42-30 with 16:00 remaining in the half. After the run, Minnesota went on a four-minute field goal drought, allowing Northwestern to pull within six. After a Westbrook basket, Northwestern went on an 8-0 run to knot the game at 47-47 with 7:59 left. Northwestern took its first lead since early in the first half when Thompson hit a runner in the lane, capping a 10-0 run. Ralph Sampson finally ended the run and a five-minute scoring drought with a basket and was fouled by Coble. Sampson made the free throw to put Minnesota back in front 50-49.
Minnesota defeated Northwestern for the second straight year in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. Overall, the Gophers are 3-1 against the Wildcats in tournament play.
Tubby Smith is 31-11 in conference tournament action as a head coach and is 3-1 at Minnesota. He has won at least one game in 14 of 16 conference tournaments.
Minnesota improved to 9-11 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota owns a record of 3-1 as a #8 seed (1998, 2009).
Minnesota is 88-57 all-time against Northwestern and 2-1 this season.
Minnesota's 22 wins rank fourth all-time in school history (not including vacated games).
Minnesota's combined 42 wins over the last two years tie a school record (1988-90 and 1980-82).
Westbrook is averaging 12.7 ppg in the second half over his last three games. He has led the Gophers in scoring in four of the last five games.
Minnesota is 11-2 when Westbrook leads the team in scoring.
Ralph Sampson III set a school Big Ten Tournament record with five blocks. He became just the seventh player to ever block five shots or more in a Big Ten Tournament game.
Minnesota's 11 blocks are the second-most ever recorded in Big Ten Tournament history behind Wisconsin's 12-block effort against Northwestern in 2000.
Devron Bostick's 11 points are the most since Jan. 15 against Wisconsin. He played a career-high 23 minutes.
Colton Iverson had a career-high three steals.
Jamal Abu-Shamala played in his 126th game, which ranks fourth all-time. If he plays against Michigan State, he will move to second all-time with Dan Coleman and Quincy Lewis.