Players from Minnesota and Northwestern shake hands after an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Indianapolis. Minnesota won 74-57. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

MEN’S BASKETBALL
INDIANAPOLIS — Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr played their typical roles for Minnesota on Wednesday.

And if it was their final act in front of a big crowd this season, they gave the fans a performance to remember.

Oturu scored 24 points, Carr added 14 and the Golden Gophers used a dominant second half to pull away from Northwestern 74-57 in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament.

“It was the mentality we came with out of halftime,” Carr said. “We were not playing how we wanted, taking good looks and shooting with confidence.”

Fans weren’t happy either after enduring an ugly first half and then learning just before halftime league officials had reversed course on who would be allowed into Bankers Life Fieldhouse this week.

Initially, the Big Ten decided to stick to the script. But hours after the NCAA announced it would prohibit most fans from watching it’s tournament games because of public health concerns, conference officials revised their stance, too.

An official announcement came on the public address system just as the teams started warming up for the second half and drew a crescendo of boos. Even after learning the Big Ten would refund ticket-holders for all five days of the tourney, some fans still panned the move.

“We were going to be here for the whole tournament,” said Tim White, a 44-year-old fan who flew from Baltimore to Indianapolis and won’t even get to see his beloved Terrapins suit up. “Now it’s trying to find a flight home, go back to hotel and cancel, see if they let us cancel the rest of it.”

But rather than allow all that become a distraction, the Gophers (15-16) focused on the task at hand.

Oturu and Carr helped the 12th-seeded Golden Gophers open the second half on a 7-2 run and break away from a 36-36 tie with a 25-7 spurt. Eventually, they extended the lead to as much as 22 and charged to their second straight win.

“I don’t know what it is but against us, Oturu becomes like Klay Thompson,” Wildcats coach Chris Collins said. “He was 3 of 5 on 3s the last time and 2 of 2 tonight.”

The 13th-seeded Wildcats (8-23) were led by Pete Nance with 15 points but never recovered after falling into a double-digit deficit. Northwestern closed out the season with 14 losses in 16 games.

Minnesota, meanwhile, must now prepare to take the stage Thursday in front of dozens rather than thousands.

“Certainly, with no fans, it will be a different atmosphere, kind of like a closed scrimmage but obviously more on the line,” Payton Willis said after scoring 12 points. ” We’ll be coming out and competing just like there’s fans out there and trying to get the `W’ tomorrow.”

BIG PICTURE

Northwestern: The young Wildcats struggled all season, and this was a tough way to close out the season. Collins remains convinced that the future is bright but had hoped for a stronger finish after the Wildcats won two of their previous three games. They’ll now have an entire offseason to find solutions.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers moved within one win of reaching of .500 — and potentially becoming eligible for the NIT. It’s still going to be a tall order. They wound need to beat No. 25 Iowa in Thursday’s second-round game then take down No. 21 Illinois in Friday’s quarterfinals to have a chance.

STAT PACK

Northwestern: Ryan Young finished with nine points and eight rebounds and Pat Spencer added eight points and eight rebounds. … The Wildcats have lost four straight to Minnesota. … Northwestern finished the season 3-12 outside their home venue. … The Wildcats were outrebounded 41-32 and were 5 of 18 on 3s.

Minnesota: Oturu also had eight rebounds and was 10 of 12 from the free-throw line. … Carr had five rebounds and five assists. … Willis also had six rebounds. … The Golden Gophers wound up 12 of 24 on 3s.

THEY SAID IT

Northwestern: “I thought in the first half, it was going by the book for us,” Collins said. “Oturu was going, but the other three (key players) weren’t really getting the shots, getting the points, and that’s why they only had 29. Then in the second half, those guards really picked it up, and that’s when it got going downhill for us.”

Minnesota: “A terrific second half offensively as well as defensively holding them to 26 points,” coach Richard Pitino said. “Excited to continue to move on in this tournament.”

UP NEXT

Northwestern: Will hope for a brighter future from this young group of players.

Minnesota: Takes on fifth-seeded Iowa in second-round action Thursday.


SOFTBALL
HONOLULU – With the majority of people already in bed back home, the No. 19 University of Minnesota Gophers came back to top Hawaii 3-2 this evening.

Hawaii jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning, but wouldn’t come close to scoring again for the remainder of the evening.

The Gophers were held quiet until the top of the fifth inning. Brooke Vander Heide reached base with her second walk of the evening. She moved to second on a wild pitch, third on a grounder and scored on a drive through the left side by Natalie DenHartog. Katelyn Kemmetmueller tied the game at 2-2 with a no-doubter in the top of the sixth. The deep solo shot was her third of the season.

The comeback was capped off in the top of the seventh. MaKenna Partain and Ellee Jensen knocked back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners. DenHartog came through again with an RBI-single into shallow right to bring in the go-ahead run. She has a team leading 28 RBIs this season.

Autumn Pease got the start in the circle. She settled in after the first inning and finished with three strikeouts while allowing five hits and two runs. Amber Fiser was near flawless in relief and took home the victory. She went four innings with six strikeouts and only allowed one hit. She retired 11 straight batters as she moved to 10-7 overall on the season.


BASEBALL
MINNEAPOLIS – Nolan Burchill pitched five quality innings and Jack Kelly drove in two runs on Wednesday night as the Gopher Baseball team used a 5-4 victory to complete a two-game sweep of Creighton.

After falling behind 1-0 in the second inning, Minnesota answered back with a three-run third. Otto Grimm and Zack Raabe each produced two-out singles to spark the rally, followed by a Jack Wassel RBI single to left-center that subsequently plated Grimm. Thereafter, Jack Kelly stepped up and drove a double into the right-center field gap to add on another two runs and give the Gophers a 3-1 lead.

Creighton pushed across a second run in the fifth on an RBI single, but that would represent the extent of the scoring against Burchill. The junior right-hander worked five full innings against the Bluejays, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out four.

With their lead cut down to one run, the Gopher offense responded in the bottom of the sixth. Max Meyer delivered a pinch-hit RBI on a fielder’s choice to first base, while Drew Stahl smacked a single through the right side for a second run to increase Minnesota’s advantage to 5-2.

The scoring would be held in check for the next two innings, as Bennett Theisen (two innings) and Danny Kapala (one inning) combined for three scoreless frames of relief from innings six through eight.

Things escalated in the top of the ninth as Minnesota tried to close the door on Creighton in game two. After the Bluejays drew a trio of walks to load the bases, Patrick Fredrickson entered in relief and was tasked with working the Gophers out of a crucial jam.

After allowing a base hit to center to bring in one run, Fredrickson induced a sacrifice fly to right field for the first out of the inning. Minnesota then chose to intentionally walk the next Bluejay to load the bases for a force out at every bag.

Holding a slim 5-4 lead, Fredrickson got the next Creighton batter to hit a line drive to the left of Stahl at shortstop. Reacting quickly, Stahl lunged to snag the liner and hustled over to the second base bag to record a game-saving unassisted double play that effectively closed the book on the series.

Thanks to the late-game heroics, Burchill earned his first win of 2020 and improved to 1-1 on the campaign. Meanwhile, Fredrickson nailed down the first-ever save of his college career, tossing one inning with zero runs allowed on one hit and one walk.

Creighton starter Dylan Tebrake received the loss after throwing 2 2/3 innings with three runs allowed on four hits, two walks and two strikeouts.

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