GAME NOTES: A pair of Big Ten Conference teams coming off monumental upsets are set for a Saturday matinee, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers welcome the Penn State Nittany Lions to Williams Arena.
Penn State (9-18) trailed late in the game at home versus fourth-ranked Michigan on Wednesday night, but rallied to claim a shocking 84-78 win, marking its biggest win over a ranked opponent since knocking off No. 2 Michigan State in the 2001 Big Ten Tournament. The triumph put an end to the Nittany Lions' lengthy 14-game losing streak, and it was their first conference win of the season.
Heading into its Tuesday night's matchup with No. 1 Indiana, Minnesota had fell out of favor in the Big Ten standings with losses in eight of its previous 11 games, but it was able to get back on track in a big way with a 77-73 upset victory. The Gophers are now 19-9 overall and 7-8 in conference, and coupling their outstanding win earlier in the week with other signature victories over Memphis, Michigan State and Wisconsin, they now figure to be on the positive side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Minnesota claimed victory in the only meeting between the school during the 2011-12 season, 80-66, on the road on Jan. 15, 2012, to extend its lead in the all-time series to 20-6.
Penn State appeared dead in the water on Wednesday night, trailing by 15 points with less than 11 minutes to play, but it caught fire down the stretch, ending the game on a 33-12 run to capture the improbable victory. The Nittany Lions were actually outshot from the field, 51.7 percent to 47.4 percent, but they made up the difference with strong showings from 3-point range (10-of-20) and the foul line (20-of-27). Jermaine Marshall was fantastic from beyond the arc (6-of-10) on his way to 25 points, while D.J. Newbill (17 points) and Ross Travis (15 points, 12 rebounds, four steals) were also integral parts to the upset.
Indicative of their poor record, the Nittany Lions are not used to the type of offensive production they got earlier in the week, as they rank 10th in the conference in scoring with just 62.0 ppg, and last in field goal percentage at .392. Despite their woes, they benefit from the presence of Newbill (15.9 ppg) and Marshall (15.4 ppg), who rank fifth and sixth in the Big Ten in scoring, respectively. Newbill gets his teammates involved with 110 assists (4.1 pg), but he has also been plagued by nearly as many turnovers (105). PSU doesn't boast much depth beyond its top two scorers, although Travis has been a solid asset in the paint with 7.2 rpg.
Minnesota trailed Indiana with less than five minutes to play on Tuesday night, but it took control by going on a 10-2 run over the next two minutes and it was able to hold on down the stretch for the much-needed victory. Trevor Mbakwe set the tone in the paint by shooting 8-of-10 from the field for 21 points, while adding 12 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. Andre Hollins was an unimpressive 4-of-13 from the field, but he shot 6-of-8 from the foul line and finished with 16 points. More important than their offensive production was the Gophers' defensive effort, which held the Big Ten's top-ranked offense to only 42.3 percent field goal efficiency.
After scoring 62 points or less in six straight games, the Gophers finally returned to form with their 77-point performance against Indiana, which is more in line with their season average of 69.4 ppg. Andre Hollins (13.6 ppg, 3.3 apg) and Austin Hollins (11.0 ppg, 1.8 spg) patrol the backcourt, but neither shoots greater than 40.2 percent from the field. Rodney Williams (10.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg) and Mbakwe (9.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.5 bpg) man the paint, and Joe Coleman (9.0 ppg) rounds out an impressive starting five.
Penn State caught lightning in a bottle on Wednesday night to prove, if nothing else, it is much better than its woeful 1-14 conference mark would indicate. The Nittany Lions have had no success away from home (0-8), and Minnesota is the much more proven commodity. Figure the Gophers to make relatively easy work of PSU.
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