Northwestern forward Gavin Skelly (44) dribbles in the first half against Gophers center Elliott Eliason (55) at Williams Arena on Wednesday night.
Brad Rempel/Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS — Mired in a 10-game losing streak with his young Northwestern team looking completely overmatched on a game-by-game basis, Wildcats coach Chris Collins did the only thing he could do and wiped the slate clean.
He told his youngsters to forget about the last 10 games and start over. He changed up the way the team practices and installed a zone defense to give them a different look, and it’s worked like a charm.
Bryant McIntosh scored 17 points and Northwestern hit 15 3-pointers to beat Minnesota 72-66 on Wednesday night.
Tre Demps added 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Wildcats (12-14, 3-10 Big Ten), who have won two straight in the conference following their 10-game skid. Northwestern shot 43.6 percent for the game, but 47 percent on 32 3-point attempts and only turned the ball over 10 times.
"I wanted them to not think about the fact that we’d lost 10 games in a row," Collins said. "You’ve got to stay the course. We have a lot of young players and it can be easy to overreact and do crazy things."
Nate Mason scored 15 points for Minnesota (16-11, 5-9), but the Golden Gophers once again struggled to defend the 3-point line. They gave up 18 3s in a loss to Indiana on Sunday.
Alex Olah added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats, who held Minnesota’s leading scorer Andre Hollins to 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting.
Hollins also had six assists and four rebounds, but was just 3 for 10 on 3-pointers.
"I’m not sure I can go back and watch, but you give up 18 3s last game and 15 this one, you’re not going to win," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "So the better team won. You’ve got to give them credit."
After winning the Big Ten opener against Rutgers, the Wildcats lost 10 straight games while going through the growing pains of a rebuilding season. Northwestern starts three freshmen and a sophomore and only has one senior that sees regular playing time.
Collins started playing music in practice to try to instill a lighter mood and they beat Iowa last weekend. Once the 3s started falling on Wednesday night, the confidence started overflowing. The Wildcats fell behind by seven in the first half before ripping off a 12-0 run with four 3s, using ball movement and atrocious perimeter defense by Minnesota to get wide open look after wide open look.
Vic Law, who entered the night shooting 25 percent from 3-point range, buried one on three straight possessions early in the second half to key a 16-0 run that put them in front 52-42 with 12 minutes to go.
Hollins, who was averaging more than 21 points per game over the last eight, didn’t score his first bucket until there was 12:01 left in the game.
His 3-pointer with three minutes to go cut the deficit to 63-57, but McIntosh came right back with another for Northwestern to pad the lead again.
"I think we’ve done a great job of just chipping away every day and trying to get better every day," McIntosh said. "We’re seeing some benefits from it now."
This loss may have ended any hopes the Gophers had of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. They started the Big Ten season 0-5, but briefly revived their chances with three straight wins over Nebraska, Purdue and at Iowa. They were blown out and returned home needing this one against the struggling Wildcats before a daunting stretch that includes games at Wisconsin and Michigan State and home against the Badgers in the next three games.