Hartman: Gophers must watch out for Penn State once more

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2014 - 7:05 AM

Defeating the same team three times in a season is always difficult.

Gophers defenders (from left) Malik Smith, Austin Hollins and Charles Buggs put the defensive squeeze on Penn State’s Geno Thorpe.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON, mlevison@startribune.com

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The Gophers beat Penn State 81-63 at Williams Arena on Sunday in a game they had to win to have any chance to get a spot in the NCAA basketball tournament.

But if you ask me, I think Penn State coach Patrick Chambers was thinking more about his team’s third encounter with the Gophers that will come Thursday in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. He might have thought that winning a meaningless game Sunday was less important while thinking that the odds are against a team winning three games against the same opponent in the same season.

This is something Chambers completely denied at the end of the game, but he seemed to coach in that fashion.

Despite their up-and-down season (15-16, 6-11 Big Ten), the Nittany Lions did beat Ohio State twice — once at Columbus — beat Nebraska at home and won road games at Indiana and Northwestern.

Even Gophers coach Richard Pitino talked about the difficulty of beating a team three times in a season, especially on a neutral court in a game his team has to win if it has any chance to get an NCAA tournament invitation.

“When I was at [Florida International] last year, we played Middle Tennessee and they got an automatic berth out of the Sun Belt, which is hard to do at that conference, and Middle was the cream-of-the-crop team,” he recalled. “They beat us at their place, it was 18 or something, we were up 20 at our place, we lost at the buzzer. We played them in the semifinals, we were not losing. We were not losing the game. We were not losing, and they were a great team. We have to understand Penn State is going to have that same mentality. It’s really, really hard to beat a team three teams. He’s a great coach, they have some very good players, prideful kids. We understand that’s going to be their role, we have to get [our players] ready to go.”

Pitino said it was difficult for the Gophers to have seven days off between games, especially with their NCAA tournament future hanging in the balance.

“Obviously a good win for us, it was tough just having seven days off this time of year,” he said. “The guys were so eager to get on the court with all these other games going on and everyone is talking, ‘in, out.’ The best thing you have to do is you have to play. That was difficult for us. I thought mentally, more than anything, our guys handled business because it was a long week. They were sick of seeing me and I was probably sick of seeing them, too.

“It was good we got back on the court. I was happy with the way that we started. They made a nice run. I thought we calmed ourselves down a little bit and handled it. So I think it’s a good win and certainly then coming back and playing again on Thursday.”

Nanne plays great

Edina hockey star Tyler Nanne had a hat trick in the first period of the Hornets’ Class 2A boys’ quarterfinal victory over Stillwater and finished the game with four goals. He was asked how old he was when he started to play hockey.

“I think I started right when I came out of my mom,” he said. “That was the goal, to get on the ice as soon as possible and lace [the skates] up quick. I think my parents did a great job of putting my little toddler body on the ice and getting me started.”

What was it like scoring a hat trick in the first period of the tournament?

“I mean it was a lot of fun, going out that first shift that little bounce in the corner and I knew right from there that the bounces were going our way and we just kept firing pucks at the net,” he said. “I was grateful to get a couple of power-play goals and help the team to victory. But all in all it was a great team win and a great tournament for the Hornets.”

Tyler gave his grandfather — former Gophers star and North Stars defenseman, coach and GM Lou Nanne — a lot of credit for his success as a hockey player.

“He has been everything to me, whether it’s from building character to making me a better hockey player,” Tyler said. “I think he was the one who really changed my game and helped me develop as a player. I’m so grateful for what he has given me.”

Tyler will be the second of Lou Nanne’s grandsons not to wear a Gophers uniform. Louie Nanne committed to Minnesota but then decided to play for RPI. Tyler is going to Ohio State.

“I just wanted to venture off,” Tyler said. “Obviously the main goal is going to the U when you’re growing up, but after realizing what I should do for myself, I think that Ohio State was the best fit for me. It’s not too far, not too close. I think the program is on the [rise] and I couldn’t be more excited to go there.”

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