INDIANAPOLIS - Daniel Oturu scored 24 points and Marcus Carr added 14 on Wednesday to lead Minnesota past Northwestern 74-57 in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Gophers (15-16) won their second straight since snapping a three-game losing streak last weekend on the only day most fans will watch from inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Pete Nance finished with 15 points for Northwestern (8-23), which closed out its season by losing 14 of its final 16.
But the game was overshadowed by what was going outside the arena. Conference officials announced during the first half that it would only allow student-athletes, coaches, event staff, essential team and conference staff, TV broadcast partners, credentialed media, and immediate family members from the participating teams because of public health concerns.
When the announcement was made over the public address system at halftime, it drew a crescendo of boos.
Minnesota was unfazed by the distraction and recovered from an ugly first half with a dominant second-half performance.
The Golden Gophers opened it with a 7-2 run then broke a 36-36 tie with a 25-7 spurt that gave Minnesota a 61-43 lead midway through the second half. Eventually, they extended the lead to as much as 22 and never let the Wildcats make another serious challenge.
Northwestern: The young Wildcats struggled all season, and this was an embarrassing way to finish it. Coach Chris Collins thought his team had turned the corner when it won two of its last three regular-season game. But they struggled mightily to make baskets Wednesday.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers picked up their second straight win to move within one game of .500 —- and possibly becoming eligible for the NIT. Still, it will be a tall order. They would need to beat No. 25 Iowa on Thursday then beat No. 21 Illinois in Friday's quarterfinals to make it.
Northwestern: Will hope for a brighter future from this young group of players.
Minnesota: Takes on fifth-seeded Iowa in second-round action Thursday.