Freshman Nolen helps Gophers steal road win from Nittany Lions

Coming from back from a 16-point deficit with an overall team effort, Minnesota gains its most meaningful victory of the season

Luke Middendorf

In building a strong resume for the Div. 1 NCAA tournament bid, conference road victories are a large factor for teams that are on the bubble.

With a 76-73 comeback victory at Penn State (10-5 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) on Saturday, Minnesota (12-3 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) took a significant step towards a tournament birth in March.

The Gophers’ two freshman guards again played significant roles in the win, with point guard Al Nolen getting a key steal with the game tied and hitting two free throws after a Nittany Lions intentional foul to seal the victory.

“What can I say about Al Nolen,” Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said on WCCO radio after the game. “He showed some tough poise for a freshman.”

Blake Hoffarber continued his hot shooting streak with five three point field goals in the game, finishing with 19 points.

Minnesota found itself down by 16 points at the 13 minute mark of the second half, but its senior leadership again showed its strength to go along with the sharp shooting of Hoffarber.

Senior center Spencer Tollackson shared the scoring lead with Hoffarber with 19 points, while fellow seniors Dan Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie chipped in 10 and 12 respectively.

“We’ve got some veteran players who have been here before, and they logged a lot of minutes today,” Smith said again on WCCO.

Coleman also put together his second double-double in as many games by adding 11 rebounds to his 10 points, while also going six-of-six from the line.

Minnesota and Tubby Smith gained undoubtedly their most meaningful victory of the season with the road win, and Smith acknowledged it as a true team effort.

“They’re really coming together as one unit,” Smith said about his team on WCCO. “You can accomplish so much when you don’t care who gets the credit.”

The Gophers host No. 11 Indiana on Thursday at 8 p.m. to try and continue their undefeated home record.