Winning in the Big Ten is hard. Winning in the Big Ten on the road is proving near impossible this year. Despite a great first half, Penn State just couldn't grab the win in Minneapolis, falling to the Gophers by a final of 75-69. A second half that saw them shoot just 24% from the field as a team was ultimately the dagger that sealed their fate and sent them to their third consecutive loss.
|1st half||2nd half||Final|
Minnesota was led by Marcus Carr (27 points, six rebounds, nine assists) and Daniel Oturu (26 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks). The Gophers dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Lions 47 to 31, which ended up being the story of the game. Penn State was led by Myreon Jones and Seth Lundy with 15 points each. Lamar Stevens chipped in 14, as well.
Penn State opened this one with a new starting lineup for the first time this season, and it paid off. Watkins and Myles Dread started this one on the sideline in lieu of John Harrar and Lundy, and the two former reserves responded. An early three-from Lundy and an early and-one (free throw missed) by Harrar were tone-setters and the Nittany Lion offense stayed hot for most of the half.
The entire team just seemed to have more energy from the get-go, though it didn't last. A 12-2 run by Minnesota spear-headed by the efforts of Oturu, Jarvis Omersa, and Carr quickly put a damper on the fast start for Pat Chambers' squad. In what would prove to be a problem throughout the half, the Gophers simply dominated the Lions on the glass. The officiating didn't do the team any favors either, especially when Lamar Stevens was called for a foul for being the recipient of a shove from Oturu. He sat for the rest of the first half with two fouls.
Still, this seemed like a different Penn State team than the two previous games, and they roared back largely thanks to a rejuvenated Mike Watkins making his presence felt. In just a matter of minutes, Watkins broke out a beautiful spin move to grab his first points, picked up a steal, stuffed two shots in the paint, and was showing great basketball IQ with the way he was moving around the court.
The rest of the opening frame was fairly even. The real story of the half for Penn State was its hot shooting (60% from the floor, 50% from deep) and great ball control (0 turnovers) while the Gophers made their money on the boards (22-11 in rebounds, 10-4 offensive).
Penn State started the second frame hot, with 8 second-half points by Stevens before five minutes had even passed on the clock. He was feeling it and wanted to make sure everyone in the arena knew it.
Note- Please take notice of the Big Ten Network thinking he said "HOLD" instead of "GUARD".
Things continued to go back and forth from there, and things started to get very feisty. They came to a head after a hard rebound by Oturu over Stevens, and Watkins came in and got in his face. The teams were given matching technical fouls, but things remained chippy throughout.
Midway through the half, the Gophers took advantage of a tired Penn State lineup to go on a run that ultimately gave them the lead back for the first time since the first half. The Lions were always going to experience some regression in the second half in regards to their shooting, and they needed to compensate by improving on the glass. That did not happen. So when the Lions had to endure a 0-10 stretch from the floor, the lack of rebounding was even more magnified as the Gophers went on a run to take a five-point lead late in the frame.
Things would only get worse for the Lions from there. After a Stevens jumped with 17:02 left in the half, Penn State would not score from the field again until a Jones shot fell with 5:28 left. The team scored three from the line during that span as well, but needless to say, essentially going scoreless for 12 minutes was catastrophic.
The Lions tried to get back in it late, but the shooting woes continued. With just 11 points from the 11:10 mark to the final whistle, the Gophers slowly, but surely extended their lead. In the end, Minnesota was the same team from the tip to the end. Penn State found success early on thanks to impossibly hot shooting from the floor and didn't have a backup plan when those shots stopped falling. Instead of trying to run the offense and continue to work to get looks for Stevens, the team started pushing and hoisting up difficult shots.
And in the end, that was not a recipe for a win.
Next up, Penn State will return home to the BJC to take on Ohio State. The Buckeyes thrashed the Lions in Columbus earlier this season thanks to some scorching hot shooting from three. Penn State will hope to keep the Buckeye shooting efforts more under control this time around and break the current two-game winning streak Chris Holtmann's squad has going. Tip-off is set for noon on Saturday, January 18. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.