Defense leads U to comeback victory

Tim Klobuchar

When a team is forced to stitch together a suspect, patchwork lineup, you don’t expect the other team is the one that will eventually unravel.
But that’s exactly what happened in the Gophers’ 82-77 win over Penn State on Wednesday night at Williams Arena, as Minnesota was able to sew up a win with a stellar second half, aided by unforeseen contributions. The Lions, meanwhile, handled the ball like it was covered with pins and needles.
Minnesota went on a 15-0 run midway through the second half to get back in the game, and a 13-0 run to put it away. Though the Gophers got their usual production from Sam Jacobson (23 points), Eric Harris (20) and Kevin Clark (17), the biggest boosts came from forwards on the bench, especially senior Rob Schoenrock, who was the first Gophers player to clamp down on Penn State star center Calvin Booth.
Booth had 16 points in the first half, almost all from within three feet from the basket, but took just two shots in a scoreless second half.
“Everyone made strong contributions tonight,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said. “Hats off to my team and staff. They did a tremendous job. This was a team victory and without the play of our bench tonight, we wouldn’t have beaten them.”
They also wouldn’t have done it without some help from the Lions. Senior Pete Lisicky began Penn State’s string of snafus. Lisicky, the Big Ten’s leading free throw shooter at 92.9 percent, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2:09 left. Had he converted both free throws, it would have bumped his team’s lead to three.
Minnesota forward Quincy Lewis was fouled on the Gophers’ next possession, and he hit both foul shots to give Minnesota the lead for good at 75-74. Harris hit two more free throws for a three-point lead, and then the Lions really collapsed.
Freshman point guard Joe Crispin, who belied his age in Penn State’s win over Minnesota earlier this season when he hit all 14 of his free throw attempts, showed it Tuesday. He made five turnovers in the second half, including a pass out of bounds and a double dribble on consecutive possessions in the final minute. The Gophers took advantage with a few more free throws, and the game was over.
The last few minutes of the game were a microcosm of the second half for the Lions, who turned the ball over 25 times, 16 after halftime. Minnesota’s full-court pressure, led by guards Harris and Clark, was a big reason for that.
“(Crispin) had a couple of turnovers at the end. We eventually got into him,” Clark said. “That’s what Coach was stressing — get pressure on the ball.”
The Gophers’ pressure gauge read zero at halftime, at which point they trailed 43-28. Booth was running amok, both getting the ball and scoring at will while Minnesota muddled through 38 percent shooting.
“The first half we came out kind of dead,” Jacobson said.
The result was a patented Haskins locker room tirade that, while heard before, nonetheless effectively conveyed his message of playing harder, especially on defense.
“It was a pretty average one for me, but I’ve been here four years,” Jacobson said. “Maybe he got some of the younger guys scared.”
Haskins sent another message when he sent out Schoenrock and Kevin Nathaniel to start the second half for ineffective Kyle Sanden and the foul-plagued Lewis. Lewis, hampered by a sprained left wrist to go with his sprained left thumb, still managed to score 11 points despite picking up his fourth foul with 11:20 to go. Sanden, meanwhile, played just eight minutes, and top reserve Miles Tarver just 12. Schoenrock, Antoine Broxsie and both Stanford twins, Jason and Jermaine, played significant minutes.
While Minnesota led Lions forward Jarrett Stephens go nuts for a career-high 27 points, mostly on layups and dunks, shutting down Booth proved to be pivotal. He was swarmed whenever he touched the ball in the second half, resulting in several Gophers steals. The 6-8, 225-pound Schoenrock, a walk-on ex-team manager, played a season-high 18 minutes and was key in shutting down Booth.
“He came in and laid some wood to him,” Jacobson said.
Said Haskins: “Schoenrock did a good job to take away baskets away from Booth in the second half. Our defense started collapsing around Penn State. They did a tremendous job.”
At the same time the defense started doing its job, the offense finally kicked in. Harris converted a layup and was fouled with 10:43 left to close the gap to 62-54. He missed the free throw, but the Gophers got the rebound, and Harris banked in a jumper, further fueling the rally. Minnesota had 17 offensive rebounds in all, five more than they had on the defensive end.
“After that play, we were pumped up from there on,” Harris said.

WEDNESDAY’S SUMMARY

Penn State 43 34 — 77
Gophers 28 54 — 82

Penn State (13-10)
Ivory 3-7 0-0 8, Jackson 0-1 0-0 0, Booth 6-10 4-4 16, Crispin 2-7 0-0 6, Lisicky 4-10 0-1 11, Branam 0-0 0-0 0, Crenshaw 0-0 2-2 2, Cline-Heard 2-2 1-1 5, Grays 0-0 0-0 0, Stephens 11-13 5-5 27, Stevenson 1-1 0-0 2, Witkowsky 0-0 0-1 6, Team 29-51 12-14 77.
Gophers (12-13)
Jacobson 7-17 7-8 23, Lewis 4-8 3-6 11, Sanden 2-6 0-0 4, Clark 7-11 1-1 17, Harris 7-12 5-8 20, Nathaniel 1-3 0-2 2, Schoenrock 0-0 0-0 0, Ja. Stanford 0-2 0-0 0, Je. Stanford 0-0 0-0 0, Broxsie 1-2 0-0 2, Tarver 1-3 1-2 3, Team 30-64 17-27 82.
Three-point goals — Penn State 7-16 (Ivory 2-5, Crispin 2-5, Lisicky 3-6), Gophers 5-12 (Jacobson 2-4, Lewis 0-1, Clark 2-5, Harris 1-2). Fouled out — none. Rebounds — Penn State 34 (Stephens 11), Gophers 29 (Harris 5). Assists — Penn State 22 (Crispin 8), Gophers 14 (Clark 5). Total fouls — Penn State 22, Gophers 15. A-14,145.