Site: Indianapolis, Ind. (Conseco Fieldhouse) Score: Northwestern 75, Minnesota 65 Records: NU (18-12), Minnesota (17-14) Next NU Event: Friday, March 11 -- Big Ten Tournament (Indianapolis), vs. Ohio State, 11 a.m. CT
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Michael Thompson set a Big Ten tournament scoring record with a career-best 35 points as Northwestern defeated Minnesota 75-65 in an opening round contest Thursday afternoon at Conseco Fieldhouse.
With the win, the Wildcats advance to Friday's quarterfinal round where they'll take on top-ranked Ohio State.
Thompson connected on 11 of 22 field goal attempts, including five of 12 from 3-point range, while drilling all eight of his free throw attempts. By connecting on all of his tries from the charity stripe, Thompson stretched his streak to 28 in a row from the line. He surpassed Pete Boesen's school record of 27 in a row that had stood since 1976.
After the Golden Gophers recorded the first basket of the game, the Wildcats led through the majority of the remainder of the first half. Thompson's triple gave NU a 21-14 with 8:28 to go in the opening stanza.
However, Minnesota's offense came to life as it went on a 10-point streak to take a 24-21 advantage. But Northwestern would eventually go on a 9-2 run to go up 32-28. The Wildcats would take a slim 32-30 lead into the break.
NU got a number of good looks from 3-point range over the opening 20 minutes of play, but connected on just five of 18 attempts. Thompson led all scorers with 13 points on the break, but he was just getting started.
The game opened up in the early minutes of the second half and Minnesota took a 44-42 advantage on a dunk by Trevor Mbakwe with just under 13 minutes remaining. That's when Northwestern took charge of the game, though.
A trey by Alex Marcotullio gave the Wildcats the lead back and Nick Fruendt, who contributed a huge seven points off the bench, followed with one of his own. The back-to-back treys ignited a decisive 13-1 surge that gave NU a 55-45 lead with nine minutes left.
Minnesota would get no closer than nine the rest of the way. Drew Crawford scored nine consecutive points for the Wildcats during a key stretch that saw the lead grow to as many as 16. Thompson sealed the win by scoring eight points late to help him break the previous tournament scoring record of 33 points held by Brian Cardinal of Purdue.
Marcotullio, who scored a career-best 18 points against Minnesota eight days earlier, scored 13 in Thursday's win. Crawford contributed 15 points at Northwestern established a new record for victories in consecutive seasons (38).
NU limited the Golden Gophers to 37.5 percent shooting from the field (21-56). The Wildcats, who rank second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, dished out 15 assists while committing only five miscues.
The victory by Northwestern sets up a rematch of a tight regular-season meeting with Ohio State. The Buckeyes won the only matchup between the teams 58-57 Jan. 29 in Evanston.