U gets in position for top three

Todd Zolecki

The hype surrounding the No. 4 Gophers men’s basketball team got a little bit crazier Wednesday night after it beat Penn State 85-70 at Williams Arena.
Not because the Gophers earned its 20th win of the season and tied their best start in program history. And not because they improved to 9-1 in the Big Ten and took a step closer to the conference title they’ve been chasing after all season.
It’s because with No. 2 Wake Forest’s loss to Duke last night, all three teams ranked higher than Minnesota in both the AP and coaches polls have lost. Top-ranked Kansas and third-ranked Kentucky lost in overtime games Tuesday.
So, where will the Gophers go?
Players say they aren’t too eager to find out. Sam Jacobson said he won’t be sprinting to the corner store to buy a newspaper next week. Eric Harris said he doesn’t want to be ranked No. 1. Not at all.
But the Gophers did play like the best team in the country Wednesday — in the first half at least. Minnesota was close to perfect, shooting 70 percent from the floor, forcing 18 turnovers — scoring 25 points off those miscues — and using a 23-4 run to build a 47-27 halftime lead.
It looked like the Gophers could do no wrong. Jacobson had 13 points (5-for-6 from the floor), Trevor Winter had six points and Quincy Lewis shot 3-for-3 in only six minutes.
Things looked good. Even Miles Tarver made a textbook jumper from 16-feet in the midst of a run.
“I don’t know who’s been coaching him that,” Jacobson said of Tarver’s sweet stroke. “I wasn’t so surprised that he made it. I was more surprised that he took the shot.”
But things turned ugly after the intermission and the Gophers suddenly didn’t look anything like a top 20 team, let alone in the top three. The Lions came back and got within seven points before Minnesota pulled away.
The Lions shot 66 percent in the second half. Penn State guard Pete Lisicky’s long range 3-pointers put Penn State in position to perhaps pull-off a major comeback.
Penn State coach Jerry Dunn said his team’s turnaround was quite simple.
“We played like men,” he said. “The bottom line is that you have to play with confidence. We had some upperclassmen and some freshmen not playing with confidence in the first half. There’s no excuse for that.”
But after Courtney James dunked a put-back off Bobby Jackson’s miss with 7:04 left in the game, Minnesota started to move again.
Gophers coach Clem Haskins made sure he let his team know there was no excuse for his players’ second half letdown. He compared the second half against Penn State to the first half last Saturday against Northwestern when Minnesota trailed 31-29 at halftime. And that meant another harsh scolding from Haskins.
“Coach was pretty upset,” Jacobson said. “But we were upset at ourselves because we let them back in the ballgame and gave them a shot at taking the ballgame from us.”
Haskins said his team’s second half effort just won’t do against Purdue next Wednesday. The Gophers have two tough back-to-back games on the road against the Boilermakers and Iowa next week.
Haskins has said his team is anywhere between a No. 1 to No. 20 team on a given night. In the first half, he said his team was No. 1, but in the second half, he said they were, “probably about 15 or 16, or maybe 30 or 40.”
Harris agreed.
“At times we played like we we’re No. 1, and at other times we played like we didn’t even belong in the rankings,” he said.
“If we get a chance to be No. 1 we’ll take it, but when you get to be that No. 1 team like Kansas, teams start coming at you hard.”

Notes: Jacobson bruised his knee cap on the first play of the game and hurt it again in the second half. He had ice on it after the game, but said he should be fine.

GAME SUMMARY
##4 Gophers 47 38 — 85
Penn State 27 43 — 70

Gophers — James 3-5 2-4 8, Jacobson 9-14 0-1 22, J.Thomas 1-3 0-0 2, Jackson 6-15 4-4 16, Harris 2-4 6-6 10, Winter 4-5 0-1 8, C.Thomas 3-5 0-0 8, Lewis 4-6 0-0 9, Tarver 1-1 0-0 2, Archambault 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-58 12-16 85.
Penn State — Carlton 2-6 0-1 4, Stephens 9-10 4-6 22, Booth 4-7 1-1 9, Bailey 6-8 1-2 13, Lisicky 6-11 3-3 18, Stevenson 0-2 0-0 0, Macklin 0-0 1-2 1, Metzger 1-1 0-0 2, Williams 0-2 1-4 1, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-47 11-19 70.
3-Point goals — Penn St. 3-10 (Lisicky 3-7, Carlton 0-1, Stevenson 0-2), Minnesota 7-9 (Jacobson 4-5, C.Thomas 2-2, Lewis 1-1, Harris 0-1). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Penn St. 21 (Stephens, Booth 6), Minnesota 30 (James 9). Assists — Penn St. 15 (Bailey 6), Minnesota 20 (Jackson 9). Total fouls — Penn St. 17, Minnesota 17. A — 14,128.