GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS AT NO. 22 PENN STATE

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Oturu vs. Stevens II – Social media was buzzing when Gophers star sophomore center Daniel Oturu’s heated exchange with senior forward Lamar Stevens in the postgame handshake line was caught on video after the Gophers 75-69 win against Penn State last month. It wasn’t a good look for either player. The squabble was a continuation of the trash talking that went on during the game. Oturu dominated the matchup with the Nittany Lions frontcourt with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Stevens wasn’t that impactful with 14 points on 5-for-13 shooting. Neither was senior center Mike Watkins (seven points and five rebounds). The most memorable Watkins moment was when he confronted Oturu face-to-face during a physical sequence in the second half. Pitino understands the competitiveness of both sides. But Pitino said, “more than anything find a way to compete at the high level but do it the right way.” On the rematch with Oturu, Stevens told local media this week: “We're two big time competitors but I'm focused on my team, focused on getting myself ready for this game. Stuff like that happens, but I don't let that stick with me."  

Carr’s consistencyRichard Pitino heard from his coaching staff at the end of Wednesday’s win against Wisconsin that Marcus Carr only needed one rebound to reach a triple-double. “What do you want me to tell him to miss? We’re not going to do that,” Pitino told them. It would’ve been the first triple-double in program history since Mychal Thompson in 1976. Carr’s scoring wasn’t the story in a 70-52 victory against the Badgers. The sophomore point guard scored under his average with 12 points on 5-for-15 shooting and 2-for-6 free throws, but he had 10 assists and nine rebounds. In the earlier win against Penn State at home, the Toronto native exploded for 27 points (10 for 11 free throws) with nine assists and six rebounds. Carr has four games of 20-plus points at home this season, but he’s averaging 12 points on 29 percent shooting away from the Barn. The Gophers are 1-7 in true road games this season. It’s no surprise that the lone road win came when Carr led the way with 21 points, including the game-winning three-pointer in a Jan. 23 win at Ohio State. Junior Payton Willis returning from a shoulder injury to put up 21 points against Wisconsin took pressure off Carr from having to carry the offense on the perimeter.

Defensive impact – The Gophers arguably had their worst defensive performance of the season in the first half of their last meeting with Penn State at home. The Nittany Lions shot 60 percent from the field (18 for 30) and led by as much as eight points at the Barn. It was a completely different effort in the second half for Minnesota, which held Penn State to 24 percent shooting (7 for 29), including 1-for-10 shooting from three-point range. Pitino’s team defeated Wisconsin by its largest margin in the series since 1994, but it was defense that stood out the most. The Gophers had 45 points in the first half, but they also held their rival to 28 percent shooting from the field. Wisconsin’s starters were 15-for-46 on field goals combined. Minnesota ranks fifth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense (40.3) through 12 league games. 

GAME INFO

Time: 3 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Bryce Jordan Center. Line: Minnesota 6.5-point underdog. Series: Gophers hold the edge 29-10 advantage, including their fifth straight victory in the series 75-69 at Williams Arena on Jan. 15. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus. Radio: 100.3

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (12-10, 6-6)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 So. 15.5

G – Payton Willis 6-5 Jr. 9.5

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 So. 11.7

F – Alihan Demir 6-9 Sr. 7.5

C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 So. 19.6

Key reserves – Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 3.4 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 2.1 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.7 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, Fr., 1.8 ppg

Coach: Richard Pitino 142-116 (8th season overall)  

Notable: Redshirt junior big man Eric Curry had successful surgery in the fall on a torn ACL in his right knee suffered during practice Oct. 7. The 6-9 redshirt junior hasn’t played a full season since his freshman year in 2016-17 after tearing ligaments in his left knee in 2017 and foot surgery last season. The last time Curry saw the court for the Gophers was with six points, four rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes in a win at Northwestern on Feb. 28, 2019. Curry’s best performance last season was with 11 points and four rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench in a 65-64 victory against Penn State on Jan. 19 at the Barn.

PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (17-5, 7-4)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Jamari Wheeler 6-1 Jr. 3.6

G – Myreon Jones 6-3 So. 14.1

F – Seth Lundy 6-6 Fr. 4.1

F – Lamar Stevens 6-8 Sr. 16.9

C – John Harrar 6-9 Jr. 3.2

Key reserves – Curtis Jones, G, 6-4, Sr., 7.1 ppg; Izaiah Brockington, G, 6-4, So., 10.8 ppg; Mike Watkins, C, 6-9, Sr., 9.8 ppg; Myles Dread, G, 6-4, So., 7.8 ppg.

Coach: Pat Chambers 186-173 (11th season) 

Notable:  Penn State was ranked No. 20 in the nation last month after winning five straight games, including against Maryland and Iowa. The Nittany Lions earned their first national ranking in 23 years this season, but they dropped out of the rankings after losses to Rutgers, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Two of those games were on the road. Three of the five straight victories since have been on the road, including at Michigan State earlier this week. Pat Chambers’ team is back in the rankings and announced its first sellout crowd Saturday since 2011 … Watkins had 21 points and 25 rebounds combined in the last two victories against Nebraska and Michigan State. Watkins racked up 15 points and 15 rebounds in Penn State’s last win against the Gophers, 52-50 in State College on Jan. 14, 2017.

Fuller’s prediction (13-9 with picks): Penn State 65, Gophers 59.

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