Penn State entered Sunday's game against Minnesota locked into the 13-seed in the Big Ten Tournament, a fact that Big Ten Network's commentators pointed out frequently while saying "Penn State has nothing to play for". Obviously they meant to compare Penn State's situation to Minnesota's, as the Golden Gophers needed a win to clinch a first round bye in the conference tournament.
But Penn State had plenty to play for: its first conference road win of the season, its first winning season under head coach Patrick Chambers and conquering the demons that had haunted the team in close games during conference play.
The first half was kind to Penn State, with their three-point shots falling and Minnesota playing particularly sloppy basketball. Aside from an 11-point run by senior Andre Hollins early on, Penn State controlled most of the action. D.J. Newbill led the way with 11 first half points, but it was a refreshingly balanced attack from the Nittany Lions.
Things seemed to be under control until midway through the second half. A 12-2 run by Minnesota capped by a Maurice Walker dunk gave the Gophers a 66-65 lead with 6:19 to play. It was a close game the rest of the way. Newbill hit a floater with 23 seconds remaining to give Penn State a 76-75 lead. Joey King would go 1-for-2 at the free throw line to tie things at 76-76 with 13.9 seconds to go.
Instead of taking a timeout, Newbill elected to dribble out the clock and take a three. Guarded by Nate Mason, Newbill launched a 23-footer that fell through with no time remaining, earning Penn State its first Big Ten road win of the season and spoiling Senior Day for Minnesota.
Four Factors Analysis
PPP eFG% OReb% TO% FT Rate
It was a fairly even game aside from the free throw rate, with Minnesota getting to the line 23 times to Penn State's ten. Penn State had the edge in eFG% thanks to shooting 42% from three.
Player of the Game - D.J. Newbill
D.J. Newbill is unquestionably an all-time great Penn State basketball player, but one of the few disappointments from him this season has been his inability to hit the big shot. That was not the case today. Again and again, Newbill hit shots down the stretch when the team needed him, culminating in his game-winning three-pointer from the top of the key. After Minnesota took its first lead of the second half with six minutes to play, Newbill was huge. He finished the game with 31 points on 11-22 (5-11 from three) shooting.
- Relief. That's the word I thought of while watching Chambers speak after the game. Penn State finally got a road win, finally got him a winning season and finally got some justice for D.J. Newbill.
- Play Designs. We saw some really cool play designs from Penn State today that were perfectly executed. In the first half, Shep Garner drove the left side of the lane and floated a beautiful alley-oop pass to Jordan Dickerson, cutting in on the right side of the rim. And early in the second half, Penn State found a wide open Geno Thorpe on a backdoor cut coming out of a timeout. That ability to draw up plays coming out of a timeout is one Chambers' strengths as a coach.
- Minnesota a third time again? If Nebraska knocks off Maryland this evening, they will jump Minnesota in the conference standings, leaving Minnesota with the 12th seed and a date with Penn State. This would be the same scenario as last season, in which Penn State closed the regular season with a road game against Minnesota, only to face them in the conference tournament. Of course, the difference this time around is that Penn State swept this season series against Minnesota.
Penn State will be the 13-seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will play the 12-seed, either Nebraska or Minnesota pending the result of tonight's Maryland-Nebraska game. Penn State's tournament game will take place at the United Center in Chicago on Wednesday, March 11 at 4:30 p.m. eastern time. You can watch that game on ESPN2.