Read my full story on Minnesota's 63-58 loss at Penn State here.
Three quick observations before I drown this one out with an Irish whiskey:
Presenting the astoundingly heartbreaking and almost comical Gophers. I'm not laughing -- believe me. Covering a team that has been through this many close, close, oh-so-close losses is not fun. No one is happy. Everyone is trying, and yielding next to nothing. But it's almost unbelievable how many times Minnesota has done this. Six of seven conference losses by two possessions or fewer? It's so bizarre, it makes me want to dig through the annals of college basketball history to see if any team has ever done this before. Coach Richard Pitino said this one felt different (because Minnesota played SO bad), but it's still the third game since New Years Eve in which the Gophers have come back from deficits of 13 or greater (and lost) to go along with two times they've earned leads of nine or greater (and lost). And Minnesota is still winless on the road in conference play this year. Pitino has just two such victories in his tenure.
Offense is this team's calling card, so... Pitino can harp on defense (and understandably so) all he wants. At some point in his Minnesota years, it might be the advantage he wants it to be. It isn't there yet (the Gophers three-point defense against teams that can shoot has been awful most of the time, including tonight). So it's not a great sign if only one player can manage more than nine points. That's Andre Hollins of course (17), who has suddenly broken out of his massive slump only to find everyone around him starting slumps of their own. Freshman Nate Mason is shooting 20 percent from the field in the last three. DeAndre Mathieu is shooting 2-for-18 (11.1 percent) in that span. Pitino doesn't know who to start at point guard. Mo Walker has been hot and cold with the ball in the paint. He's been turnover prone. Carlos Morris surprises every night with what type of player he will be. Hollins, owner of the biggest slump of the year, is now the beacon of consistency. But he isn't getting a very welcome return.
Penn State was majorly handicapped, and it didn't matter. Hollins, doing the only scoring in the first half, also worked to hold Big Ten leading scorer DJ Newbill to just 2 points for 33 minutes. Penn State's second leading scorer, forward Brandon Taylor, sat with a knee injury. Still, the Gophers couldn't capitalize. The mistakes ran rampant in this one, but as usual, hit a new level in the last few minutes of the game. And ironically, Newbill's late second-half spurt gave Penn State the last drive it needed to push past the Gophers, and was probably the difference in the game.