STATE COLLEGE, PA. – Coach Richard Pitino noted heading into Saturday’s game that the Gophers weren’t playing well on offense of late.
It really showed in the second half Saturday.
Tony Carr hit two free throws with five seconds left and Penn State beat the 24th-ranked Gophers 52-50 before an announced crowd of 11,759 at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“It was about as disappointing as it gets,” Pitino said.
Carr’s free throws — his only points of the day — gave the Nittany Lions only their second lead of the game. The Gophers (15-4, 3-3 Big Ten) led by 14 late in the first half but couldn’t hold it in losing on the road for the second time in four days.
Leading 32-22 at halftime, the Gophers shot 28 percent (7-for-25) from the floor in the second half after shooting 46.4 percent in the first.
After Penn State had a shot blocked out of bounds with the score tied in the closing seconds of regulation, Nate Mason fouled Carr on the inbounds play. That resulted in Penn State’s 16th and 17th second-chance points of the game.
“We foul, not sure why,” Pitino said of the play. “A freshman hit two big free throws for them and then we didn’t execute at the end.”
That final play they didn’t execute resulted in a long, off-balance three-pointer from Mason with three seconds left that hit off the backboard as time ran off the clock.
“Old-school Big Ten battle today, for sure,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said.
Mike Watkins had 15 points and 15 rebounds for the Nittany Lions (11-7, 3-2). Payton Banks added 10 points.
“[Watkins] is a very good player off the pick-and-roll,” Gophers center Reggie Lynch said. “So you’ve always got to make sure that when you’re defending the screen-and-roll that you’re able to contest the dribble and the give-back because they’ll dump it down to him for the dunk.”
Carr, one of five Penn State players averaging at least 10 points per game this season, shot 0-for-6 from the floor, but the 81.3 percent free-throw shooter hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with the game on the line.
Lynch scored 12 points to lead the Gophers. Mason had seven on 3-of-13 shooting, continuing a Big Ten scoring slump for the junior guard. He hit a tiebreaking jumper with 1:40 to go, but Watkins tied the score up again with two free throws 15 seconds later.
Penn State forced a tie-up with Amir Coffey at the other end with 1:02 to go. Banks followed by missing a three-pointer with 34 seconds left — Penn State was 2-for-14 from three-point range — but the Nittany Lions’ Josh Reaves secured the rebound to give themselves an opportunity for the final shot.
Sharp shooting early gave way to the same old woes for the Gophers.
A hot 10-for-16 start from the floor turned cold when they missed their next six shots. Their defense controlled the pace early in what otherwise was a sloppy first half. Both teams combined for 19 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
“We just came out and took our foot off the gas, which we know we need not do — ever,” Lynch said. “We got a little too complacent.”
The Nittany Lions heated up when they needed to, despite finishing at 30.4 percent shooting for the game.
“Not sure what we were doing at the end,” said Pitino, whose team does not play again until rival Wisconsin visits Williams Arena next Saturday. “You hold the team to 30 percent, you’d think you’d have an opportunity to win the game.”