Behind a great effort from Jared Swopshire who recorded 16 points and 8 rebounds and a great team effort on defense Northwestern became the first team outside of the top-10 to beat the Gophers this season. This moves Northwestern to 2-1 in their last three games and 3-4 overall in the Big Ten. With a game at Nebraska on tap for Saturday this Northwestern team which many (myself included) feared could struggle to reach four Big Ten wins will have a chance to pick up their fourth Big Ten win in just eight games.
How has Northwestern turned around a season that looked lost just three weeks ago? I think Swopshire is the major key. When he asserts himself NU seems to be able to compete with anybody. He was great tonight in getting points, especially early, but he was even better on defense and on the glass. In a game where Minnesota was almost certain to out rebound NU, Swopshire did a very nice job keeping NU at least respectable in that area and playing overall nice defense.
That defense was assisted greatly by the move by Coach Bill Carmody to switch to the 1-3-1. I don't think NU was bad in man to man, but that defense wasn't going to change momentum nor make up for Minnesota's athletic advantage. With the 1-3-1 NU forced Minnesota to commit turnovers before they even got a chance to get offensive rebounds and when they did take shots many of those chances were so poor that they were no threat to NU at all.
NU also got some very nice games from Reggie Hearn and Tre Demps. Hearn was about the only player on either team who could make a free throw and he put the game away from NU at the line. I also thought he showed great hustle which resulted in him getting some easy transition buckets which were big for NU. Demps got his first start and while he didn't have his best game he scored 10 points and made three plays I thought were huge in the outcome of the game. He made a shot right before halftime which gave NU momentum. He made a clutch three to put NU up 43-39 when NU was clinging to a own point lead that ignited the NU run and he got fouled and made two free throws on a great out of bounds play when NU had just four seconds to get a shot.
Really as bad as NU got beat on the boards, I think the major criticism of this game was free throw shooting. NU missed nearly as many free throws as they made in this game. That type of free throw shooting will cost, and has cost, NU games. That's an area the team must improve in. Dave Sobolewski does so many things well, and showed great command of the game tonight, but if he's the guy who has the play in his hand regularly he has to make free throws.
Overall, though, a great effort by Coach Carmody and NU. They earned this win over a talented and well coached Minnesota squad.