Gophers rout Penn State in Big Ten opening round

Minnesota will face Michigan State in the quarterfinals for the second-straight season.

Gopher senior Lawrence Westbrook drains a 3-pointer in the second half as Minnesota cruised to a 76-55 win over Penn State in its first game of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

Gopher senior Lawrence Westbrook drains a 3-pointer in the second half as Minnesota cruised to a 76-55 win over Penn State in its first game of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

Marco LaNave

INDIANAPOLIS âÄî Gophers menâÄôs basketball coach Tubby Smith recently said that his team must earn the respect it gains. His players unveiled an expression of that theme before Thursday nightâÄôs Big Ten tournament opener against Penn State at Conseco Fieldhouse. In their on-court warm-up preceding their final trip to the locker room before tipoff, the Gophers sported white t-shirts with a Minnesota âÄúMâÄù on the chest and the word âÄúRESPECTâÄù written underneath. âÄúWeâÄôve been talking about [respect] all year,âÄù Smith said. âÄúRespecting the game, respecting yourself, respect for that name on the front of the jersey.âÄù With a 76-55 first-round victory over Penn State on Thursday night, the Gophers (19-12) earned another chance to gain respect in Friday nightâÄôs Big Ten quarterfinal against No. 11 Michigan State (24-7). Toward the Spartans, the Gophers have the respect that comes with having lost eight straight games to a Big Ten foe. The Gophers fell to top-seeded Michigan State in last yearâÄôs Big Ten quarterfinals and dropped both games this season, including a 65-64 loss at Williams Arena in which they squandered a 13-point second-half lead. âÄúWe made a lot of mistakes in the last four minutes [of that loss], so I definitely think we can pull off the upset [Friday],âÄù said sophomore point guard Devoe Joseph, who started his first game at point guard for ineligible junior Al Nolen against the Spartans on Jan. 23. Joseph had a three assists against Penn State (11-20) on Thursday and played his first game without a turnover since entering the starting lineup. He scored 10 of MinnesotaâÄôs first 23 points, helping the Gophers to a 26-11 lead in the first 15 minutes. Penn State came as close as 33-25 early in the second half, but the Gophers used a 32-13 run to put the game away. The Gophers made 14 of their first 18 second-half shots and made 58 percent of their field goals in the game. They scored 21 points off of 14 Penn State turnovers. After losing twice to Minnesota this season by a combined seven points, Penn State shot just 26 percent until the final minute of the first half. Nittany Lions guard Talor Battle, who averaged 21.5 points in the two regular-season meetings, didnâÄôt score in the gameâÄôs first 15 minutes and finished with 10 points the day after he injured his right ankle in practice. âÄúHe took a good roll yesterday,âÄù Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. âÄúHeâÄôs not a young guy thatâÄôs going to make excuses, but it did affect his play tonight.âÄù Smith gave credit to senior guard Lawrence Westbrook for challenging Battle, even though it might have come with a little sacrifice of WestbrookâÄôs offensive game (he didnâÄôt score in the first half but finished with 10 points). âÄúI liked his attitude,âÄù Smith said. âÄúWhen you see your leader stepping up and taking on that challenge, then I think it invigorates and inspires the other players to play harder.âÄù The Gophers had four players score in double figures, including 11 points from senior forward Damian Johnson and 12 off the bench from sophomore center Colton Iverson, who was perfect on five field-goal attempts. âÄúI think we just came with a lot more intensity for this game,âÄù Iverson said. âÄúWe know there’s a lot on the line. We can’t let anything slip away anymore.âÄù ThursdayâÄôs other opening-round games: No. 8 Michigan 59, No. 9 Iowa 52 All-Big Ten guard Manny Harris scored 22 points and added nine rebounds and three steals for the Wolverines (15-16), who advanced to face top-seeded No. 5 Ohio State in FridayâÄôs first quarterfinal at 11 a.m. Hawkeyes guard Cully Payne scored a game-high 25 points and forward Aaron Fuller had 10 points and 13 rebounds in defeat. Iowa (10-22) never led but closed MichiganâÄôs 16-point first-half lead to four early in the second half. After trailing again by 16 with four minutes remaining, the Hawkeyes made an 11-0 run but missed four shots on a possession that could have made it a one-score game. No. 7 Northwestern 73, No. 10 Indiana 58 The Wildcats (20-12) didnâÄôt lead until a 10-0 run midway through the second half turned a 45-39 deficit into a 49-45 lead. The Wildcats advanced to a quarterfinal matchup Friday with No. 6 Purdue, whom they defeated at home in the teamsâÄô only meeting this season. Northwestern made just 2-of-18 3-point attempts in the first half against Indiana (10-21), but guard Michael Thompson made three among his game-best 13 second-half points. Hoosiers guard Verdell Jones III led all players with 20 points and six assists.