Entering Williams Arena with the worst record in the Big Ten and a four-game losing streak, Penn State’s men’s basketball team lived up to its numbers and its reputation in a 94-70 rout by Minnesota (12-7, 5-3 Big Ten) on Wednesday.
On the flip side, Gophers forward Rick Rickert surpassed his.
En route to the second-highest scoring performance in his young career, the freshman found the basket any way he could. Rickert scored the first of his points with a fade-away jumper in the opening 15 seconds of the game and proceeded to add 24 more to his total using tricky layups, hook shots and nine points from three-point range.
“They defended me pretty well, but I just found ways to get around that and score,” said Rickert, who had five rebounds and shot 9 of 12 from the field for 26 points. “I was feeling it. I was really confident in my shot and I just went at it.”
At one point in the second half, Rickert made a layup and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but hit a three-pointer seconds after teammate Dusty Rychart grabbed the rebound.
“Rick’s been playing out of his mind lately,” said Rychart, who scored 14 points and had five assists. “He’s coming into his own. It’s just a matter of time. He’s maturing and getting used to the game at just the right point.”
By halftime, when the Gophers took a 47-27 lead into the locker room with 17 points from Rickert, it was clear Minnesota would avenge a 20-point loss to the Lions in last season.
“We should have had Michigan like this,” Rychart said, referring to the Gophers’ two-point loss to the Wolverines on Jan. 19. “We should have cut their oxygen supply right away like we did to Penn State.”
The Gophers, who never trailed in the game, led by as many as 11 points in the first 10 minutes. Rickert made a pair of three-pointers with just over nine minutes remaining to give Minnesota a 16-point lead. The Lions (5-14, 1-7 Big Ten) would never pull within 12 points.
The victory moved the Gophers into sole possession of third place in the Big Ten and improved their record to 11-1 at home.
“Any time you win a Big Ten game, you’re happy,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “Every game is tough and when you win one by 20, that makes it extra good. It’s tough to get wins.”
Minnesota outplayed Penn State in all facets of the game to earn its second consecutive win. Not only did the Gophers shoot 62 percent from the field compared to the Lions’ 38 percent, but Minnesota grabbed 38 rebounds to Penn State’s 27.
The Gophers also had nine steals and four blocks, three from junior forward Jerry Holman. In all, the Lions turned the ball over 12 times, eight in the first half resulting in 13 points for Minnesota.
“I thought we got our lunch handed to us inside, obviously,” Penn State coach Jerry Dunn said. “We were very soft on the interior and we did not do a good job of taking care of the ball in the first seven or eight minutes of the basketball game.”
Although the game followed an 18-point upset victory over conference-leading Ohio State last Saturday, the Gophers never showed signs of a letdown.
“This is a game that I was worried about because this team hasn’t showed the maturity and hasn’t been favored to win in the Big Ten lately,” Monson said. “It takes a certain toughness, mentally, to be able to handle that and I was really pleased with the way they approached the game.”