STATE COLLEGE, PA. – Penn State’s students rushed down the Bryce Jordan Center steps an hour before game time Saturday to pack their section. It didn’t take long for the rest of the arena to fill up for the first announced sellout since 2011.
This wasn’t your typical Penn State crowd, but fans came to see one of the best teams in program history.
Daniel Oturu’s career-high 32 points weren’t enough for the Gophers to overcome a 19-point deficit and 33 points from Lamar Stevens in an 83-77 loss to the No. 22-ranked Nittany Lions in front of an announced 15,261.
The Gophers were playing like they knew they needed a victory to get on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble, but the early hole was too steep to climb all the way back.
Oturu got some help from Marcus Carr, who scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half. But the Gophers (12-11, 6-7 Big Ten) fell to 1-8 in true road games this season.
“We have to come out with that same intensity from the beginning,” said Oturu, who shot 12-for-23 and grabbed 16 rebounds. “We’re a good enough team that we should never be down 19 to anybody in this league. We’ve got to come out with the same energy, same fight and passion like we do at the end of games.”
Minnesota used a 15-4 run in the second half to pull within 71-68 on Gabe Kalscheur’s three-pointer with just under five minutes to play. Oturu then went to the free-throw line with a chance to pull the Gophers within a point, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1.
That was just enough of a momentum-killer for the Nittany Lions (18-5, 8-4) to take control again. Stevens and Myles Dread responded with six consecutive points, including Dread’s three-pointer to extend it to a 77-68 lead at the 3:15 mark.
“It was a big swing,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “Our guys were fired up. I thought Marcus put the team on his back in the middle of the second half. Daniel made some plays. Once we weathered that foul trouble early, we chipped away at it.”
The Gophers beat Penn State 75-69 at Williams Arena on Jan. 15 behind 51 points from Carr and Oturu combined, but back then they were facing an opponent that didn’t know how to deal with success.
Penn State was ranked for the first time in 23 years then before losing three in a row. The Nittany Lions are 5-0 since the loss at Minnesota, including a victory at Michigan State.
“Credit that team to fight through all that and kind of have their moment,” Pitino said.
Minnesota trailed 36-22 at halftime Saturday after shooting just 30% from the floor. Oturu had 14 points in the first half, but the other Gophers starters had only six points combined on 3-for-14 shooting, including 0-for-7 from beyond the arc.
The Nittany Lions surged ahead in the second half, building leads of 47-28 and 54-35. Carr exploded for 13 consecutive points during a 15-4 run for the Gophers, who cut it to 58-50 after back-to-back threes from Carr.
Five minutes later, Carr connected with Alihan Demir on a nifty bounce pass between defenders in transition for a dunk to get within four. Minnesota couldn’t get any closer than three on the next possession.
The Gophers, who don’t play again until Feb. 16 vs. Iowa at home, are heading into their first bye week. Four of their last seven regular-season games are at home, but the pressure is on to finish above .500 to give themselves a realistic shot at the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t think scoring was the problem in this game,” Carr said. “We just didn’t get enough stops. It started in the first half. We weren’t really guarding at all.”