STATE COLLEGE, PA. – The Gophers hit 11 three-pointers and enjoyed one of their better offensive games of the men’s basketball season but fell apart down the stretch, tumbling to Penn State 86-77 on Tuesday night at Bryce Jordan Center.
It was Minnesota’s fourth consecutive loss and seventh in eight games.
The Gophers (6-9, 0-3 Big Ten) led Penn State 71-63 with 6 minutes, 6 seconds left, but were held to only one basket down the stretch as the Nittany Lions (10-6, 1-2) cruised to their first Big Ten victory and third consecutive victory over Minnesota, dating to last season.
“It’s definitely one of the toughest ones yet, but we’re going to have to take a look back, see what we can do to improve and just move on,” senior forward Joey King said.
With star freshman forward Jordan Murphy (nine points, seven rebounds) quiet for most of the night, the Gophers unleashed a rare flurry of three-pointers to stay on top for most of the game, but could only watch as Penn State ignited a 16-0 run to spin the game in favor of the home team.
The Nittany Lions rallied from an eight-point deficit and took a two-point lead at 53-51 with 12:57 to go, only to quickly find themselves in the rearview mirror once more when Minnesota regained the advantage on a King three-point play. But when Penn State launched another comeback, going up 72-71 with 3:38 remaining, the Gophers had no responses left.
The Gophers’ Charles Buggs, who has been benched twice this season, had the opportunity to retake the lead twice but botched both chances. He had the ball on the perimeter with 3:12 left but elected to pass just as the shot clock expired. On the next possession, he was fouled while diving for a loose ball, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. From there, the Gophers were a tangle of defensive mistakes and missed shots.
“That kind of started everything,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “They made us pay when we made mistakes. But we didn’t execute down the stretch and that’s on the coach. You’ve got to execute.”
The Nittany Lions, who hit nine of 10 free throws in the final minute, scored 34 points in the paint to Minnesota’s 14, with forwards Brandon Taylor (18 points, six rebounds) and Payton Banks (24 points, five rebounds) leading the way.
King led Minnesota with 22 points and surpassed 1,000 for his career. He broke out of a seven-game shooting slump, with his four three-pointers accounting for more than half of his successful field goals (7-for-29) in that span.
Nate Mason added 19 points and Carlos Morris scored 15.
Murphy, meanwhile, fouled out with 50 seconds to go. He picked up his second foul less than five minutes into the game and never found his groove.
“We can’t have him on the bench with two fouls in the first half anymore,” King said. “He’s such a big part of our team and gives us a big emotional lift … once you get one, you’ve got to know the rest of the half you can’t get another.”
In his absence, the Gophers used an uncharacteristic shooting performance — seven three-pointers from six different players — to stay afloat and ahead 36-32 at halftime despite 10 turnovers.
But their control came to a halt in the second half.
“We were getting out on the break, we were making the extra pass, we were getting assisted jump shots,” Pitino said. “We abandoned that. And the turnovers totally just hijacked our team.”