Gophers battle back in second half for 75-69 victory over Penn State

Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr carried Minnesota, combining for 53 points.

by Nick Jungheim

In a hyper-competitive Big Ten, defending home court has become essential. Coming off on a victory over Michigan at The Barn on Sunday, the Gophers once again fought back from a first-half deficit to claim a gritty victory.

Minnesota (10-7, 4-3 Big Ten) withstood a shooting barrage from Penn State (12-5, 2-4 Big Ten), tightening up defensively in the second half to win 75-69. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr and sophomore Daniel Oturu combined for 53 points on the evening as the Gophers improved to 9-1 at home.

“You have to win at home in this league it’s so hard,” said head coach Richard Pitino. “With our schedule it’s such a challenge.”

Shots began falling early and often in the first half. Penn State pushed the tempo to start the game, taking a 7-point lead within five minutes but Minnesota responded with a 12-2 run, making the score 19-16.

The game was tied at 29 with 7:14 to go in the opening half when the Gophers seemingly gained an advantage when Penn State’s leading scorer, senior Lamar Stevens went to the bench with his second personal foul. However, Minnesota was in the midst of a 5:12 stretch without a made field goal. During this time, the Nittany Lions caught fire, even without Stevens, scoring 10 points in less than two minutes to go ahead 39-31.

Surviving the surge, the Gophers were able to Penn State’s lead, cutting it to two points at the half. Although the Nittany Lions made field goals at a 60% clip during the first period, Minnesota had a decided advantage at the foul line, converting 13-15 free throws before break, compared to 5-9 for the visitors. 

After Minnesota tied the game on their first trip down the court after intermission, Penn State took momentum back with an 8-0 run. Stevens accounted for six Penn State points in the first three minutes of the half but that’s when the shots stopped falling for the Nittany Lions.

“We saw they were shooting 60%, we didn’t have any steals at halftime, we knew that was unacceptable,” Carr said. “That was something we had to turn around very quickly.”

Through the first 23 minutes, Penn State managed to score at will but an 11:34 minute field goal drought allowed Minnesota to seize control. By the time the Nittany Lions hit another shot from the field, Minnesota had turned an eight-point deficit into a five-point lead. In stark contrast to the first half, Penn State shot 24.1% from the field after halftime.

Clinging to a slim lead in the final minutes, the Gophers were able to get buckets when they needed them most. First was a timely 3-pointer from Oturu and then an and-1 from Carr to give Minnesota a 10-point lead with one minute remaining, sealing the victory.

“That was a huge play,” Pitino said. “[Carr] is only a sophomore but he doesn’t look like a sophomore out there. I’m excited for him, he keeps getting better and better.”

Playing all 40 minutes, Carr lead all scorers with 27 points, making 3 threes and contributing 9 assists. Oturu completed his fifth double-double in his last six games with 26 points and 14 rebounds.

“He’s fighting through great fatigue and showing great toughness,” Pitino said of Oturu. “Obviously another very productive night.”

For Penn State, freshman Seth Lundy, who averaged 3.5 points entering the game, scored 15 points on Wednesday, tied for the team lead with sophomore Myreon Jones. Stevens was not far behind finishing with 14 points, although he made just 5 field goals.

“He’s a good player, he’s a strong dude,” said sophomore Jarvis Omersa who defended Stevens for much of the game. “You have to know his tendencies.”

Now having successfully completed the brief home stand 2-0, the Gophers will hit the road next week to play a pair of strong opponents. The stretch begins with a trip to New Jersey on Sunday to play Rutgers before taking on Ohio State on Jan 23.

“Now we have to do it on the road,” Pitino said. “We’ve done it at home. You have to find a way to do it on the road to take that next step. You have to find a way to win at home in this league because it’s really hard to win on the road.