Gophers survive first Big Ten road test, down Penn State

DeAndre Mathieu led Minnesota with 12 points down the stretch.

Jace Frederick

DeAndre Mathieu looked pedestrian through the first 33 minutes of the Gophers road contest at Penn State on Wednesday night.
 
But luckily for the Gophers (13-3, 2-1), Mathieu put on a cape and turned into Superman down the stretch, scoring 12 of his 16 points points during the final 6:47 and making multiple plays — including a steal and layup with 41 seconds remaining — to help Minnesota escape with a 68-65 win over the Nittany Lions (9-7, 0-3).
 
It didn’t look like the Gophers would need any heroics early on. The Gophers jumped out to a 14-4 lead and had the clamps on Penn State.
 
But the Nittany Lions came alive behind the play of senior guard Tim Frazier and rode a 28-13 run to a 35-30 lead at the break.
 
Frazier got whatever he wanted all night on the offensive end. He finished with 20 points and eight assists and missed just once from the field (6 for 7) all night. 
 
His triple with 17:02 left in the second half gave Penn State its biggest lead of the night at 42-34.
 
The Nittany Lions held on to its narrow lead for much of the second half as the Gophers couldn’t make enough big plays in succession to get over the hump. The Gophers didn’t retake the lead until Mathieu tipped in an Austin Hollins miss with 1:43 to play.
 
Mathieu stepped up on a night when the Gophers guards certainly experienced their struggles. Austin Hollins scored just four points on 1 for 5 shooting and Malik Smith didn’t hit from the field (0 for 5), but did make some clutch free throws late to help secure the victory.
 
It was the second time in three Big Ten contests where the Gophers struggled to get much scoring on the perimeter. Minnesota shot 4 of 16 from downtown. 
 
But Minnesota wasn’t the only side to have a top guard struggled. Penn State guard DJ Newbill came into the night as the Big Ten’s second highest scorer (18.0 points per game), but took just two shots and went scoreless before fouling out late.
 
The Gophers did a nice job locking Penn State down defensively — the Nittany Lions shot just 37.9 percent from the field — but 14 offensive rebounds provided Penn State with multiple scoring opportunities.
 
Nittany Lions forward and Chaska, Minn. native Ross Travis collected five of those offensive boards. He had a banner game, finishing with 18 points and 13 rebounds down low.
 
Elliott Eliason continued to consistently produce for the Gophers on the interior. He scored 11 points and added 12 rebounds and four blocks — good for his fifth double-double of the season.
 
The win came at a crucial time as the Gophers head to East Lansing, Mich. to take on No. 5 Michigan State on Saturday. Minnesota’s next four contests all feature ranked opponents.