Gophers open Big Ten Tournament with 74-57 win over Northwestern

Marcus Carr #5 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers drives against Robbie Beran #31 of the Northwestern Wildcats in the first half during the first round of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 11, 2020 in Indianapol ((Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images))

The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team advanced to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament with a 74-57 win over Northwestern Tuesday night.

Fresh off not being selected First Team All-Big Ten, but being named a Sporting News All-American, Daniel Oturu scored 24 points on 6-of-10 shooting, shot 10-of-12 from the free-throw line and grabbed eight rebounds. In the process, Oturu scored his 1,000th career point with the Gophers.

He led three Gophers in double figures as Marcus Carr scored 14 points, shooting 4-of-6 from the perimeter, and Payton Willis added 12 points.

Minnesota (15-16) advances to face No. 5-seeded Iowa on Thursday afternoon. The Big Ten announced during Tuesday’s game that he remainder of the tournament, starting Thursday, will be closed to the public due to concerns across the country for the Coronavirus pandemic. Gophers coach Richard Pitino offered a sarcastic response when asked immediately after the win about playing Iowa without fans for either team.

“I was the head coach at FIU for a year and nobody came to our games so that might help,” Pitino joked. “It’s going to be weird for both teams. Obviously it’s a tough decision for everybody in college basketball and all of sports, but it’s got to be about the game on the court, regardless of who is in the building. Our guys are playing well, we lost a lot of close games but I still believe we’re a really good team.”

The Gophers trailed 31-29 at the half after shooting 30 percent from the field, but out-scored Northwestern 45-26 over the final 20 minutes thanks to shooting 9-of-14 from three-point range. Minnesota hit 12 3-pointers on Wednesday after setting a single-game record as a team with 18 in the win over Nebraska to end the regular season.

Minnesota opened the second half on a 14-5 run to take a 43-36 lead, with the help of seven straight points from Alihan Demir. He hit his first 3-pointer in nearly two months as the Gophers started to pull away. Willis and Oturu hit consecutive 3-pointers to put Minnesota up 59-43 and force a Northwestern timeout. Carr added a 3-pointer for a 64-45 lead and effectively put the game away.

Four of Minnesota's five starters played at least 30 minutes Wednesday, but Carr and Oturu hit the bench with the game decided in the closing minutes. The Gophers lost eight Big Ten games by eight points or fewer, and fatigue may have played a role in a few of those losses. They had a 16-point lead on Maryland before losing on a late 3-pointer, and led Thursday's opponent, Iowa, by eight points with less than six minutes to play before the Hawkeyes ended the game on an 11-0 run and stole a 58-55 win at Williams Arena.

Iowa swept the regular season against Minnesota, winning the Big Ten opener for both teams, 72-52. The Gophers need a win over the Hawkeyes on Thursday if they have a chance to be in the NIT. They would need to win four games over the next four days to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.