IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Minnesota’s first response to its four-game losing streak was six points in 10 minutes against Iowa.
Those troubling numbers seemed to finally snap the Gophers out of their two-week slumber.
Trevor Mbakwe scored 22 of his 24 points in the second half and Minnesota broke its losing streak in emphatic fashion, pounding the Hawkeyes 62-45 Sunday.
Rodney Williams added 13 points for the Gophers (17-8, 6-7 Big Ten), who put an end to their longest skid under coach Tubby Smith by dominating once-surging Iowa over the final 30 minutes.
Minnesota erased an early 14-6 deficit with a 24-6 run to end the first half. Mbakwe’s layup and jumper pushed the Gophers’ lead to 38-23, and Minnesota extended the margin to 48-27 with 8:01 to play.
“People just started realizing, this is a must-win for us. We want to reach our goals, we want to go to NCAA tournament, we can’t have any slip-ups,” Minnesota guard Blake Hoffarber said. “We’ve got to get some wins on the board.”
Bryce Cartwright had 11 points and seven assists to lead Iowa (10-15, 3-10), which shot just 34 percent from the floor and 21 percent (6 of 28) from 3-point range.
“At times our execution wasn’t that bad. We just couldn’t get anything to go down,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
The Gophers came into Iowa City in crisis mode, with their NCAA tournament hopes suddenly in question. They left with a crucial win over an Iowa team that had been playing much better than its record would indicate.
“We needed this game bad. Four games is tough,” said Mbakwe, who was 10 of 11 from the line after entering the game as a 58.6 percent free-throw shooter. “I think it kind of showed how hard we work.”
After Minnesota’s last defeat, 71-62 at home to Illinois, Smith challenged his team in hopes of snapping the Gophers out of their funk. He made just one change to the starting lineup from the last two games though, going with forward Colton Iverson instead of guard Austin Hollins.
It didn’t really work much early. But Minnesota got rolling after that, outscoring Iowa 42-13 in a 22-minute stretch.
“I think our guys responded the right way. We were focused, ready to play and we had great balance,” Smith said.
The Gophers owned the boards early, outrebounding Iowa 21-12 while scoring 12 points off of nine Iowa turnovers.
Minnesota’s defense took over in the second half. The Gophers held Iowa to just seven points in the first 12 minutes after the break as their comfortable lead turned insurmountable.
“I think it’s clear once we started going south, we were not a confident group,” McCaffery said.
Iverson finished with four points and six rebounds in 28 minutes. But Minnesota’s size bothered the Hawkeyes all game, as it outrebounded the Hawkeyes 38-25 and outscored them 34-14 in the paint.
Though Iowa has almost no shot at playing past the Big Ten tournament, the Hawkeyes were a missed jumper away from entering Sunday’s game on a three-game winning streak.
On Wednesday, Iowa pushed No. 13 Wisconsin — which went on to hand No. 1 Ohio State its first loss Saturday — to overtime before falling 62-59. The Hawkeyes nearly won it in regulation, but Cartwright’s short jumper from the baseline bounced off the rim and out.
Iowa’s momentum was stunted by the Gophers, who brought the Hawkeyes down to earth with that late first-half run and didn’t let up.
“We just knew we didn’t want it to get worse,” Mbakwe said. “We’ve been kind of digging ourselves holes this whole season, and we knew it was either know or never.”
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