Penn State went into the Big Ten Tournament losers of three straight. After getting embarrassed in John Harrar’s last game at Bryce Jordan, the Lions battled, but ultimately faltered, against both Illinois and Rutgers on the road to close the regular season.
The Big Ten Tournament provided a sort of fresh start for the Nittany Lions, a win-or-go home scenario that would have to do, as their record is not conducive to the ultimate win-or-go-home goal each team aims for.
They faced a Minnesota team that they’d seen four times before in this environment, and each of those times it’s led to a loss. Early in the game, it looked like it would be five. Both teams started slow, with Minnesota getting into their groove a little earlier than the Lions. As things started to settle, and the offenses started clicking on both sides, the Gophers were able to take an early four point lead, that would later turn into seven. Penn State would whittle down the deficit to one, but Minnesota would ultimately blow the lead back up, going into the half up four.
The combination of Penn State finding a rhythm in the second half, and Minnesota playing its starters for all but 51 seconds in this game led to vintage Penn State basketball in the second half. The defense continued to suffocate Minnesota, while timely three pointers and drives to the paint slowly, but surely turned the halftime deficit into what would become a seven point lead with less than five minutes in the game. By that point, Minnesota’s players were so tired from playing the entirety of the game that all their wide open shots simply had too little in them. The Gophers would score a grand total of four points in the last six minutes of the game, which allowed Penn State to build an 11-point lead turned 9-point victory.
Penn State takes on Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday. The Lions get the night cap once again, so expect tip off at approximately 9 PM Eastern on the Big Ten Network.