Penn State's brutal start proved to be devastating.
The Nittany Lions committed six turnovers and managed just one field goal a little more than eight minutes into their game against Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers fed off the early Penn State miscues, building a 20-point lead and rolling to an 81-63 win over the Nittany Lions at Williams Arena on Sunday.
Minnesota led by as many as 25 points in the second half and saw its lead cut down to nine before putting Penn State away down the stretch. Minnesota scored 23 points off turnovers and had five players finish in double figures.
“We fought our way back to single digits, but I think we ran out of gas,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “In this league, you just can’t do it.”
Maurice Walker and DeAndre Mathieu each scored 16 points to lead Minnesota (19-12, 8-10). Austin Hollins had 14, and Andre Hollins and Maverick Ahanmisi each notched 13 points.
D.J. Newbill paced Penn State with 24 points on 9-for-20 shooting, and Tim Frazier added 14, going 10-for-12 from the free-throw line.
Penn State (15-16, 6-12) will face Minnesota again Thursday in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. The Gophers are the No. 7 seed, while the Nittany Lions are the No. 10 seed. Penn State finished tied with Northwestern for 10th place in the conference and earned the No. 10 seed due to its 59-32 win over the Wildcats last Thursday. The winner of the Penn State-Minnesota matchup will face Wisconsin in the quarterfinals.
The Gophers also beat the Lions 68-65 on Jan. 8.
“One of the hardest things to do in sports is beat a team three times, so we’ve got to understand that,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
The Nittany Lions’ poor start fueled the blowout loss.
Penn State committed three turnovers in its first five possessions. And the Gophers made the Nittany Lions pay.
After a Jordan Dickerson walk, Austin Hollins connected from in close to get Minnesota the board. A missed 3 by Newbill led to a transition 3 by Andre Hollins after Mathieu pushed it up the floor. And after a turnover by Frazier, Mathieu drilled a 3 to put Minnesota up 8-0 with 16:34 left in the first half.
Penn State called a timeout. But the Nittany Lions’ troubling start only got worse.
After Donovon Jack ended Penn State’s scoreless start with a tip-in, Minnesota went on a 15-1 run that forced another Nittany Lions’ timeout with 11:52 remaining in the half.
Minnesota led 23-3. Penn State never got closer than 12 points for the rest of the half and trailed 38-24 at the break.
Newbill led Penn State with nine points at halftime, taking 10 of the team’s 24 shots. Minnesota’s Hollins and Daquein McNeil gave the Nittany Lions’ leading scorer fits, sticking with the guard on drives and contesting every shot. Newbill held the ball late in the shot clock in the final minute of the half and waited to attack, but McNeil poked the ball free on the perimeter to force a shot-clock violation.
Minnesota used a strong start to the second half to expand its lead to 25 points with 14:02 remaining. A layup by Walker pushed the Gophers’ lead back to 25 just more than a minute later.
“It was good to get one at home, the last one at home for the seniors,” Walker said. “We all played hard. We knew what we were playing for. So good to get it.”
More than four minutes later, the Nittany Lions sliced Minnesota’s lead to nine. But the Gophers went to their man-to-man press, leading to a turnover by Geno Thorpe and layup by Mathieu to quickly give Minnesota a 13-point lead.
The Gophers led by double figures the rest of the way, closing the rout with consecutive 3-pointers by Ahanmisi, who came into the game averaging 1.4 points per game. Ahanmisi matched a career-high with 13 points, going 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. The senior scored just two points in Minnesota’s first 17 conference games.
“I’ve got a lot of regrets this year with decisions I’ve made — I think that happens — but I need to find him more minutes somehow someway,” Pitino said, “and hopefully we’ll be playing a little bit longer.”
The Nittany Lions have three days to prepare to bounce back in their third game against Minnesota on Thursday.
“We’ll worry about Minnesota on Wednesday,” Chambers said. “We’ve just got to pick up the pieces, regain our confidence.”