Wash, rinse, repeat. Penn State's season continued to spiral out of control at Minnesota on Saturday night, as Lamar Stevens' baseline jumper drew back iron as time expired to give the Golden Gophers a much needed home win in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions were in control of the game until, as usual under Pat Chambers, the team went on an extended scoring drought. This one, in which Penn State scored three points and zero field goals over six minutes of action, flipped the scoreline from a seven-point PSU lead to a five-point Minnesota lead with less than five minutes to go.
It was a well-deserved lead that the Lions threw away, too. Stevens had it rolling in the first half, bouncing back well from a disappointing 4-18 shooting effort against Iowa. His three-point shooting had been a bugaboo coming into the game (15.8%), but there was no sign of any such troubles in the first half. Stevens drained all three of his attempts, which created plenty of opportunities off the dribble that he was happy to take advantage of to the tune of 17 first half points.
Penn State did their job on the defensive end well enough, earning them an eight-point lead at the break. Mike Watkins and Jamari Wheeler fell into foul trouble near the end of the half, but all in all things were looking bright.
Of course as you watch Penn State basketball over and over again, you eventually start to recognize that brightness as the white light people in movies say they see before they die. Hell, it got double-digit lead bright after Stevens opened up the second half with an and-one. But it was only a matter of time before the lead, and any confidence that this would be Penn State's first Big Ten win, would wilt away and die.
Foul shooting once again plagued the Nittany Lions as the game descended into a free throw contest with fouls piling up on both sides. Minnesota made 17 of their 21 second half freebies; Penn State just 9 of 16. The visitors had Jordan Murphy, who finished with 19 points and a career-high tying 21 rebound. He recorded two points and one rebound on a vicious putback slam of his own miss to give the Gophers a three-point lead inside of a minute.
Stevens' final scoring act was a three-point play on the ensuing possession that tied the game at 64 apiece. Dupree McBrayer forced a somewhat dubious block call on Myles Dread with 2.7 seconds left and made second at the line to put Minnesota up one. Josh Reaves' out-of-bounds heave to Stevens hit Amir Coffey's arm, which hit an out-of-bounds Larry Scirotto. An effective ball-advancing play in college basketball if there ever was one. With the final play of the game, Stevens made a difficult catch on the baseline through Murphy, turned and lined up a 15 footer from the right baseline, and clanked it off the heel of the rim as time expired.
The bad news is that Penn State's next game comes against Rutgers at the Bryce Jordan Center, a game in which only bad things are possible for both the university and sport of basketball. The good news is that there is a whole week to invent some kind of Men In Black memory wipe device to forget about Penn State's season to date. Get to work.