EVANSTON, Ill. -- After Amir Coffey finished off a Gophers steal with a soaring two-hand dunk in the second half Thursday at Northwestern, his sister yelled from the crowd, "That's my brother!"
Nia Coffey got a little bit of heat from fans sitting around her. Surely they figured she'd be cheering for the home team since she's a star on the Wildcats women's basketball team.
What probably bothered fans more was the fact that Minnesota wasn’t rattled coming back on the road for a 70-66 victory Thursday night against Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Gophers (14-2, 2-1) are 2-0 in Big Ten road games this year, tying the most conference road victories Richard Pitino had in each of his first two seasons with the program in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Last season, Minnesota lost all nine games away from Williams Arena in the Big Ten.
“I just think the guys who were here last year have grown up,” Pitino said. “As tough as last year was for them, it was good for them. And I just think the guys who we brought in are really helping us.
Coffey is one of those guys. Reggie Lynch is one of those guys. So are Eric Curry, Michael Hurt and Akeem Springs.
The 6-foot-8 Coffey had 10 of his team-best 17 points in the first half Thursday. Lynch had 10 of his 12 points in the second half, to go with eight rebounds. Springs and Hurt hit three of the team’s six three-pointers.
The newcomers accounted for 40 of the team’s 70 points. But returning junior guard Nate Mason’s eight free throws in the final 26 seconds were just as critical for the Gophers.
Purdue and Northwestern both watched seven-point second-half leads evaporate once Minnesota’s confidence got going late in the game.
“We’re tough,” Coffey said. “We’re really resilient. On the road the crowd is against you, so we try to motivate each other. Just keep the intensity up and stay in games. The last two road games, we’ve been down, but we keep pushing through and getting stops.”
POINT GUARD BATTLE: Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh outscored Mason 21-12 in the battle of two of the best point guards in the Big Ten. Mason went 0-for-4 from the field in the second half, but he actually had more points 8-7 in the half than McIntosh. Mason iced the game with under a minute left. His eight straight free throws gave the Gophers a cushion when McIntosh nailed a three-pointer to cut it to 66-64 with 13.2 remaining.
STINGY DEFENSE: The Gophers had one of their worst defensive performances in the first half Thursday, allowing Northwestern to shoot 52 percent from the field. That included two fouls on three-point shooters. But the second half was a completely different story. Minnesota held Northwestern to 29 percent after halftime.
The Wildcats’ leading scorer, Scottie Lindsey, had 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting. Lindsey was averaging 15.7 points per game. He and second-leading scorer Vic Law combined for just eight points on 3-for-15 shooting in the second half Thursday.