Men’s basketball: Gophers rally past Northwestern in overtime, get to .500 in conference play

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Ebbs and flows are commonplace in basketball games.

Dawson Garcia, Cam Christie and their Gopher teammates seemingly took that to the extreme Saturday afternoon inside Wiliams Arena.

By the time heart rates and breathing were back to normal, it was Minnesota coming back to beat Northwestern 75-66 in overtime, a final punctuated with a pulsating, thunderous dunk from Pharrel Payne with 38 seconds left.

“This is a big-time win for us to build on,” said coach Ben Johnson.

Garcia scored eight of his 20 points in the extra five minutes, and the Minnesota defense limited Northwestern to 2-of-9 shooting in overtime.

The Wildcats did not score a basket in more than eight minutes of crunch time, including the final 5:55 of regulation.

Minnesota (14-7, 5-5 Big Ten) has won two straight after a four-game slide.

Johnson is most happy the team continues to be rewarded for its efforts.

“They persevered through a lot, especially the guys who’ve been here from Day 1. Just to see that, over time, the hard work and what we do works and that they’re good players and they just need a little bit of belief. I think that’s the whole key to everything.

“… If you got belief and you can back that up with positive occurrences, I think sky’s the limit. I think our guys throughout the course of the year, even in losses when we played well, have found ways and we’ve constructed ways for them to keep believing, and that’s how you win a game like this. It’s kind of ragtag and you just find ways to stay in it.”

Christie had 15 points and six rebounds for the Gophers. Payne added 14 points and nine rebounds and Elijah Hawkins, who limped off early in the second half but returned a few minutes later, had 13 points and 10 assists.

“To have that balance is key and it just puts the defense in more of a bind,” Johnson said.

“We have a bunch of fighters that are willing to do anything to win,” Payne said.

A 45-second sequence by Garcia in overtime was emblematic of that.

The 6-foot-11 forward made a 3-pointer for a 66-63 lead, grabbed a rebound off a missed Northwestern layup and was fouled in the offensive end. He made both free throws.

“All that was going through my mind was just win,” Garcia said.

Minnesota, a 67.8% free-throw shooting team coming into the game, made seven of eight in overtime.

Christie swished home a 3-pointer with 40.6 seconds left in regulation to give the Gophers, who trailed by eight with less than five minutes to play, a 59-58 lead. It was their first advantage since 15-14.

Minnesota finished 7 of 23 from beyond the arc. It entered the day shooting 29.5% from deep in conference play, ahead of only Rutgers.

Northwestern (15-7, 6-5) made 11 threes, its fifth straight game with 10 or more 3-pointers, a key reason why the Wildcats were able to maintain a slight lead through much of the second half. However, Northwestern lost in overtime for the second straight game. The Wildcats fell 105-96 in overtime at No. 2 Purdue Wednesday.

A pair of free throws by Hawkins pushed the lead to three with 20 seconds left, but Boo Buie, who led Northwestern with 20 points, made one of two free throws to get the Wildcats back within a bucket.

Minnesota turned the ball over with 13.4 seconds left, and Buie was fouled on a baseline drive with 4.8 seconds to go, with the ball nearly falling in for what would have been a possible 3-point play and a Northwestern lead. Instead, his two free throws sent the game to overtime.

The message in the Minnesota huddle before overtime was about belief.

“We’re just talking to each other and telling each other that we’re not going to walk out of his game with a loss,” Garcia said.

Trailing 27-24, Hawkins drilled a straight-on 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left to cap a 10-0 Minnesota run to end the first half. It was the Gophers’ second long-distance make in the final minute of the half after missing their first nine shots.

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