Weather, Simmons give Gophers scare in loss

Michael Dougherty

STATE COLLEGE, Penn. — Rough weather and the health of guard Terrance Simmons overshadowed Minnesota’s 80-72 loss at Penn State on Wednesday.
Prior to leaving for the game, Gophers men’s basketball coach Dan Monson welcomed the rough weather his team was traveling into for Wednesday night’s game.
Monson claimed that adverse situations on the road have usually led to good things for his teams in the past.
But Tuesday’s events stretched the meaning of the word “adverse.”
After having its flight to State College diverted to Harrisburg, the team experienced a rough landing that caused starting guard Terrance Simmons to experience what Monson called “somewhat of a fainting spell.”
Simmons was taken to the emergency room in Hershey by ambulance with Monson and trainer Roger Schipper. The rest of the team continued the two-and-a-half-hour trip to State College. Monson said Simmons went through testing and was cleared by a cardiologist to play in last night’s game.
They finally left for Penn State at 2:30 a.m. and arrived at their hotel at 5 a.m.
Simmons did not participate in the team’s shoot-around prior to Gophers’ loss, so Monson kept Simmons out of the starting lineup. Junior guard Mitch Ohnstad started in place of Simmons.
However, Simmons surprised his coach when he was able to come off the bench and score eight points in 25 minutes.
With Simmons’ situation in the back of their minds, the rest of the team was able to pick up its play. The Gophers (10-7, 2-5 Big Ten) had played poorly during their three-game losing streak. But Wednesday night, they did everything right — except win.
They shot 54 percent from the field (29-of-54), 71 percent from the free-throw line (10-of-14), out-rebounded Penn State by 13 and had 21 assists.
But for the second straight game, Minnesota turned the ball over 23 times, and it just wasn’t good enough to overcome the play of Penn State’s burly forward Jarrett Stephens.
“Stephens, we had no answer for him down in the block with our rebounding,” Monson said. “Even though our rebounding stats looked OK, he had some critical offensive rebounds that got him back when they were struggling offensively.”
Monson had hoped forward Dusty Rychart was the answer for stopping Stephens, but Rychart fouled out with nine points and six boards in only 24 minutes of playing time.
Stephens, a senior who sat out last season because of knee injury, scored 24 points, grabbed 13 boards and had four steals.
“He’s just hard to guard because he’s so big,” Rychart said. “Basically, he outweighed me by 45 or 50 pounds. I’m not going to use that as an excuse; he just outplayed me.”
The loss and Simmons’ problem overshadowed what turned out to be John-Blair Bickerstaff’s finest game at Minnesota. The junior scored a career-high 18 points on 9-of-9 shooting and nabbed eight rebounds, six offensive.
But Bickerstaff didn’t want to talk about the game afterward. He said the ordeal with Simmons really puts the game of basketball into perspective. He called the plane landing one of the worst he’s been through, and he said he’s been through many.
“It was rough,” Bickerstaff said of the landing. “It felt like we were changing speeds and we were rocking up and down and sideways. I’ve been on a lot of planes, and I’ve experienced this a little bit, but it definitely was one of the worst I’ve had.”
Even though his teammates were concerned, Simmons wanted to downplay the situation after coming out of the training room after the game.
“I just felt some discomfort when the landing was kind of rough, but I don’t think it’s really that serious,” Simmons said. “It didn’t scare me; I just lost all my energy and it made me a little fatigued.”

Michael Dougherty covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]