All season, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers has watched his team come close.
The Nittany Lions have staged late comebacks and competed in tough losses time and again in conference play. But after another comeback attempt fell short Thursday night in a 63-56 loss to Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, Chambers said he’s tired of getting close.
“We have to start getting over the hump and winning these games,” Chambers said. “And I don’t know if it’s a perception, I don’t know if it’s a mindset, I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve got to figure it out where we can come out and compete and know that we can win games.”
Penn State pulled within three points in the final minute, but the Nittany Lions trailed the Golden Gophers from start to finish at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. D.J. Newbill led Penn State with 16 points on 7-for-22 shooting, including going 1-for-9 from beyond the arc. Tim Frazier went 4-for-13 and finished with 11 points. The Nittany Lions shot 32.2 percent from the field and went 5-for-21 from long range.
Austin Hollins paced Minnesota with 18 points, and DeAndre Mathieu added 13 points and five assists.
Minnesota (20-12) advances to face second-seeded Wisconsin in the quarterfinals Friday. Penn State (15-17) will wait to see if it’s done enough to earn an invite to a postseason tournament – most likely the College Basketball Invitational, which announces its field Sunday.
Four days after a troubling start doomed Penn State in an 18-point loss to the Gophers, the Nittany Lions struggled to get going again.
The Gophers jumped out to a 15-5 lead as the Nittany Lions started 2-for-18 from the field and 1-for-9 from beyond the arc.
“I think we just missed shots, but obviously Minnesota wants to speed you up with their defense,” Frazier said. “That’s why they pressed full court throughout the whole game. I don’t know if we shot our shots fast, but it took us a while to knock down some shots.”
Penn State missed four 3-pointers on one possession during the tough start.
Newbill missed the first attempt off the back iron, but Frazier grabbed the rebound. John Johnson then tried from deep and missed long off the backboard, but Ross Travis corralled it to give the Nittany Lions another chance.
Donovon Jack launched from beyond the arc and left it short. Another Frazier rebound led to another Jack attempt, which missed short again.
“I thought we made every shot they’d take pretty difficult,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “The only thing — we were getting stops, we weren’t getting rebounds. The offensive rebounds were hurting us a little bit. But certainly holding them to 32 percent, our goal is always 35 or below, so to do that was a very, very good defensive effort.”
Penn State finished 1-for-9 from 3-point range in the first half. The Nittany Lions closed the gap to 30-25 at the break.
Minnesota expanded its lead to 12 less than three minutes into the second half. The Gophers led by as many as 14 and held an 11-point advantage with 3:56 remaining.
Penn State then went on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 58-54 with 2:35 to play. Neither team managed to score again until Andre Hollins hit a free throw to push the Gophers’ lead to five points in the final minute.
Nittany Lions forward Brandon Taylor answered with a pair of free throws on the ensuing possession, cutting the deficit to 59-56 with 44.4 seconds left.
Minnesota called a timeout with 21.5 seconds left and 13 seconds remaining on the shot clock.
The Nittany Lions needed a stop, but they left Andre Hollins all alone beyond the arc. Minnesota’s Joey King found him, and he drilled the 3-pointer.
“It just happened that way,” Andre Hollins said. “They were trapping randomly, and (Mathieu) did a good job of breaking the tap pass to Joey and then Joey did a good job of sucking the guy in, and I was left wide open. It was wide open and I had to take it.”
The shot ended Penn State’s comeback bid and clinched another close loss.
“We cut it back it down to single digits and made it a single-possession game,” Frazier said. “They made the winning plays they needed to make to win.”