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20-win fantasy becomes a reality

Minnesota’s 73-69 win Wednesday at Penn State also sealed its 10th Big Ten win.

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team achieved two impressive milestones in one very unimpressive performance Wednesday.

The Gophers picked up their 20th overall win and 10th Big Ten win of the season, making a strong bid for entry into the NCAA Tournament, because no Big Ten team with 10 regular season wins has ever been left out of the Big Dance.

But against a hapless Penn State squad, it was anything but a strong statement.

The Gophers (20-9, 10-6 Big Ten) jumped out to an early 30-15 lead over the Lions but barely held on for a 73-69 win at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa.

It wasn’t a shocking victory by any means, as the Lions (7-20, 1-14) had already been blown away by the Gophers on Jan. 3, when Minnesota led by as much as 25 before winning 83-62.

But this was a game some thought might be a “trap game” for Minnesota – a game in which teams are often surprised by a squad that has nothing to lose.

The Gophers weren’t surprised early, but the team did suffer a bout of rigor mortis down the stretch, scoring just six points during a 10-minute span that almost cost them a victory.

But, as usual, the team hung tough and gave coach Dan Monson his first 20-win season at Minnesota, closing the regular season with an above-average shot at an NCAA Tournament bid.

And it was in typical ugly fashion.

The Gophers led 40-26 at halftime, and Vincent Grier opened the second half with a basket to push the margin to 16.

But Penn State came storming back thanks to 17 second-half points from Danny Morrissey on five three-pointers that pulled the Lions within 61-58 with just more than five minutes left.

But Minnesota was able to hold on by scoring 12 points in the game’s last five minutes and never relinquished the lead.

By the time it was all over, it was a watershed night for the Gophers’ offense.

Grier had 27 points, and Brent Lawson added 14 – only the second time he’s reached double digits in Big Ten play and the first time since he had 10 points against Michigan State on Jan. 22.

In addition, the team’s 73 points was its second-highest total in the Big Ten, surpassed only by its last game against the Lions.

The Gophers now have more than a week off until they play again in the Big Ten Tournament, giving them time to rest and get ready for a probable matchup with Indiana on March 11 in Chicago.

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