STATE COLLEGE, PA. – Once again, the Gophers men’s basketball team brought a runaway game to the wire. Once again, Minnesota walked off the court with nothing to show for it.
The Gophers turned the ball over three times in the last 47 seconds and Joey King’s shot attempt with four seconds left was blocked — undersized Penn State’s ninth of the night — ending Minnesota’s five-game winning streak against the Nittany Lions. The 63-58 final score marked the Gophers’ sixth of seven conference losses in which they have fallen by two possessions or fewer, but coach Richard Pitino quickly dismissed the idea that this defeat was part of a trend.
“This one felt different to be honest,” he said, clearly agitated. “I don’t think there’s anyone in that locker room that feels, ‘Oh, woe is me, we were unlucky.’ We didn’t deserve to win tonight. This was sloppy, sloppy offensive basketball.”
Minnesota (13-9, 2-7 Big Ten) held a clinic for that last statement in the final minute.
Within 60-56 with 47 seconds to play, center Mo Walker tossed the ball out of bounds, but D.J. Newbill’s inbound pass flew straight into the hands of guard DeAndre Mathieu, who made a wide-open layup to put the Gophers within two. Minnesota fouled and Geno Thorpe made only one of two shots to give the Gophers another chance, but Andre Hollins turned the ball over the next possession. Again the Gophers fouled. Again Penn State (14-7, 2-6) converted one of two. Handed a Hail Mary pass, Walker bobbled the ball and turned it over with 17 seconds remaining. The last Minnesota foul didn’t mean much with the Gophers already trailing by four.
“We kept getting chances, and we just kind of squandered each of those chances as they came up,” King said.
The Gophers shot only 39 percent from the field and went to the free-throw line eight times to the Nittany Lions’ 21. Penn State got more than nine points from only one player — Newbill, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the final seven minutes, 10 below his Big Ten-leading scoring average. The Nittany Lions missed second-leading scorer Brandon Taylor, who sat out because of a knee injury.
After trailing by as many as 13 points, the ever-scrappy Gophers plowed back to take their first lead of the second half at 46-45 on a three-pointer from Hollins with 8:37 to play, continuing the same maddening trend that has both plagued and given them hope since the start of the Big Ten schedule.
But again, Minnesota’s offense stalled. Starters Carlos Morris, Mathieu and Walker combined to go 7-for-27 from the field, good for 25.9 percent.
Meanwhile, Penn State perked up. Quiet all night, Newbill (who also had 11 rebounds, five assists and six turnovers) snapped out of his lull when it mattered. The senior guard scored nine consecutive points in the second half and 10 of the Nittany Lions’ last 14 points. For 33 minutes, he was held to only two points by Andre Hollins (17 points, the only Gopher in double figures). The last basket of the hot stretch put Penn State back on top 56-50 and sent ripples of cheers throughout the cavernous and half-empty Bryce Jordan Center.
“He got in transition, and it’s hard to stop a player like that,” Hollins said. “He scores in various ways, and that’s what he got going right there.”
In conference play, Minnesota has lost two games in which it held leads of nine or greater and three games in which it came back from deficits of 13 or more.
“There were some heartbreaking ones earlier, but we know this one was on us,” King said. “There were just some embarrassing plays that can’t be made at this level.”