MINNEAPOLIS — Daniel Oturu was a productive sidekick in the paint to Jordan Murphy as a freshman last season for Minnesota, flashing the potential to be the program’s next standout big man.
With Murphy now a pro, well, Oturu is sure playing like one too.
Oturu had 19 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks in posting his ninth double-double of the season, leading Minnesota past Northwestern 77-68 on Sunday night.
“There’s not a lot of things he can’t do, to be honest,” said Gophers guard Marcus Carr. “You know it’s real tough when the other team’s game-planning for him.”
Carr added 17 points on 10-for-10 free-throw shooting for the Gophers, who made all 19 of their attempts for their first perfect game from the foul line of the season as they confidently bounced back from a potentially crushing double-overtime loss at Purdue in their previous game.
“That Purdue game (a double-overtime loss to the Boilermakers on Jan. 2) was devastating, mentally and physically,” coach Richard Pitino said. “Everybody left everything out there.”
Alihan Demir scored 11 points and freshman Tre’ Williams pitched in a career-best 10 points for Minnesota (8-6, 2-2 Big Ten), which outrebounded an out-manned Northwestern team 43-28 and had an 18-6 edge in second-chance points.
Pat Spencer scored 22 points and Miller Kopp added 14 points for the Wildcats (5-8, 0-3), who have lost four straight games. They’re the only team left in the 14-team league without a conference win, and they’re facing a steeper climb to get one with a sudden rash of injuries that left coach Chris Collins with only seven scholarship players for this game.
With regulars Boo Buie, Anthony Gaines and A.J. Turner missing, the Wildcats had only one true guard, Spencer, in the starting lineup. Buie, a freshman, had 26 points against Michigan State and 25 points against DePaul last month.
“It’s just going to be finding the guys that work well together and finding different pieces that are able to play together,” said Spencer, a graduate transfer from Loyola of Baltimore.
Northwestern lost the last three games by a combined 11 points, but this one was never truly close once Minnesota took control around the midpoint of the first half.
The Wildcats were averaging more than 20 attempts from 3-point range entering the night, but they went nearly three quarters of the game without even trying one. The Gophers went 6 for 19 from long distance in the first half, succeeded with a volume strategy against Northwestern’s zone defense. Sharp ball movement helped them get plenty of open looks, though, thanks to the attention Oturu demands underneath.
Williams finished a fast break with a dunk after he stole the ball from Pete Nance, giving the Gophers a game-high 57-34 lead with 9:45 to go. Kopp made three straight 3-pointers to give the Wildcats some life. They were 0 for 5 from behind the arc until that run. But the Gophers righted themselves after a scolding from Pitino at the timeout. Demir hustled for a rebound from under the basket and fed Oturu for a dunk and a three-point play with 6:02 left that pushed the lead back to 14 points. Oturu has been a frequent target of Pitino’s criticism, despite his stature as the best player on the team.
“He’s always pushing me to play the best I can play,” Oturu said. “Just with somebody like him always in my ear, `You can do more. You can do more,’ I really appreciate that because it gives you more confidence.”
Said Collins: “I thought we did a pretty good job, and he still gets 19 and 16. That kind of shows you what a player he is.”
This was the first time Northwestern lost at Minnesota in seven seasons under Collins, winning previously at Williams Arena in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. Gaines, though, was the only player on the current roster who took part in any of those.
Northwestern: The lowest-scoring team in the Big Ten suffered a big blow with the revelation this week that Gaines, the junior guard who missed his third straight game, needs surgery on his shoulder. He will be out for the remainder of the season. Buie and Turner both have unspecified lower-body injuries, with Buie out indefinitely.
“Hopefully, we’ll get Turner back sooner rather than later, but this is kind of going to be the group we’re going to have for the time being,” Collins said.
Minnesota: Getting shooting guard Payton Willis back from an ankle injury that kept him out of the previous three games was a big lift. With Williams staying in the starting lineup, Willis came off the bench with a quiet seven points in 21 minutes, but the depth his presence was provided was more than welcomed. The Gophers were gassed down the stretch against Purdue three days ago, which didn’t help their attempt to pull out a victory in the clutch. Carr and Gabe Kalscheur played 48 minutes in that game, and Williams played 46 minutes.
Northwestern: Play at Indiana on Wednesday. The Hoosiers have lost their last two games.
Minnesota: Play at No. 14 Michigan State on Thursday. The Spartans beat No. 12 Michigan 87-69 on Sunday.
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