Minnesota's DeAndre Mathieu got rolling in the second half, while Northwestern got shut down.
Mathieu scored 13 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes and the Gophers came back to defeat the cold-shooting Wildcats 54-48 on Sunday.
Maurice Walker and Andre Hollins each had eight points for the Gophers (17-9, 6-7 Big Ten), who won for just the second time in six games and ended a five-game road losing streak. Minnesota also avenged a 55-54 loss to Northwestern at Minneapolis on Feb. 1 and ended a five-game losing streak at Evanston dating to February 2008.
The Wildcats (12-14, 5-8) played the tight defensive game they wanted in the first half and led by as many as seven points in the opening 20 minutes. They settled for a 28-25 lead at halftime after Mathieu swished in a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left.
"The 3 kind of got my confidence going a little bit and coach kind of lit a fire under me at halftime," Mathieu said. "He's kind of good at getting me going even though he shouldn't have to."
Then Minnesota's defense doomed Northwestern, which lost its third straight. The Wildcats went just 7 for 28 from the floor in the second half and missed nine straight field goal attempts until Tre Demps dumped in a layup with 10 seconds left.
"Obviously a great, great defensive performance," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "Just team defensive wise did a great job."
Northwestern's JerShon Cobb scored on 5 of 7 3-point attempts and led Northwestern with a season-high 23 points. Alex Olah added 10.
Northwestern leading scorer, Drew Crawford, had 11 rebounds but was held to just two points on 1-for-15 shooting. He didn't connect until his ninth shot at 4:54 into the second half.
"Drew Crawford going 1-15, it's a testament to (Minnesota guard) Daquein McNeil," Pitino said. "He did an unbelievable job off the bench and Austin Hollins, as well as our five men did a really good job."
For the game, Northwestern shot only 30.2 percent while Minnesota shot 46.3 percent. Northwestern was unable to cash in on 17 Minnesota turnovers.
"If you hold a team to 54 points and (they) turn it over 17 times, you should be in a great position to win," Northestern coach Chris Collins said. "We just couldn't score enough points.
"I thought they did a great job on both Drew and Tre (Demps), which took away our rhythm. Your defense can only hold up so long."
Andre Hollins nailed a 3-pointer from the left side 2:16 into the second half to put Minnesota ahead 32-31 and set up a tight, back-and-forth period. Neither team led by more than three points through the first 16 minutes of a scrappy second frame.
Minnesota pulled ahead 49-44 when Austin Hollins hit a 3-pointer with 3:09 left. Neither team scored again until a free throw by Minnesota's Malik Smith with 27 seconds left made it 50-44.
A pair of free throws by Northwestern's Kale Abrahamson with 15 seconds left cut it to 50-46 and gave the Wildcats a glimmer of hope. But Mathieu hit two shots from the line a second later to ice it.
The Wildcats scored on just two of their first 11 shots from the floor, but set the tone for most of the first half with a deliberate half-court attack and tight defensive play that led to 10 Minnesota turnovers.
Northwestern used a 9-2 spurt midway through the period to take the lead and moved ahead by as many as seven, but settled for the 28-25 halftime advantage.
Northwestern opened its biggest lead of the half, 26-19 when Cobb connected on the third of his 3-pointers. He led the Wildcats with 13 points in the period, going 3 for 4 from beyond the arc and 4 for 6 overall from the floor.
Northwestern's Alex Olah tied it 44-all on a free throw with 7:10 left to complete a three-point play. Minnesota went ahead for good at 45-44 on Walker's free throw less than a minute later.
Olah left the game in the final minute with an ankle injury. Collins did not know how severe it was.