With the score tied and time for one shot, Penn State turned to D.J. Newbill.
Newbill crossed half court with just more than seven seconds remaining, Minnesota’s Nate Mason waiting for him and his Nittany Lion teammates spread out to give him plenty of room to operate at the top of the key.
Mason settled into a defensive stance, a few feet off Newbill, who rocked the ball back-and-forth four times before making his moving with around four seconds left. He chose to fire a 3-point attempt over the 6-foot-1 Mason with less than two seconds left rather than drive.
“I guess he was trying to send me to his help,” Newbill said. “So I just rose up over him with confidence.”
Newbill’s 3-pointer dropped as the buzzer sounded to lift Penn State to a 79-76 win over Minnesota at Williams Arena on Sunday. Newbill scored a game-high 31 points to help Penn State snap a six-game losing streak and earn its first Big Ten road win in its final game of the regular season.
It was the Penn State’s second win in 12 conference games decided by single digits this season.
Geno Thorpe added 14 points and Brandon Taylor had 12 for Penn State, which shot 47 percent from the field.
The Nittany Lions (16-15, 4-14) will be the No. 13 seed in the conference tournament and will face Nebraska in the first round Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in Chicago.
Penn State used a hot finish to the first half to take a 43-34 lead into halftime.
The Nittany Lions knocked down five 3-pointers in less than three minutes to turn a 27-24 deficit into an eight-point lead late in the half. Penn State shot 50 percent from the field and from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
“I didn’t like our energy coming into the game,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “And I thought we played with much more energy in the second half.”
Penn State expanded its lead to 13 early in the second half and led by at least seven points until the Golden Gophers made a late run to take the lead.
Minnesota’s Maurice Walker, who paced his team with 26 points and 11 rebounds, capped a 12-2 run with a wide-open dunk to push the Golden Gophers ahead 66-65 with 6:19 left.
It was their first lead since 27-24 with less than six minutes to go in the first half.
“I was just trying to fight and trying to win the game,” Walker said. “It was Senior Night and I wanted to go out on a bang, we went out in a bang but kinda in the wrong way but, you know, I was just trying to pick everyone up.”
Newbill responded with a floater and a 3-pointer, giving Penn State a 70-66 lead. He later hit two free throws to maintain a four-point advantage, but Minnesota went on a 6-0 run to take a two-point lead with 1:45 remaining.
Newbill scored 14 of Penn State’s final 16 points to keep the Nittany Lions in position to win in the tight game.
Jordan Dickerson accounted for the other two points, finishing a dunk to tie the game 74-74 with 1:12 to go. After Walker drew a foul and hit 1 of 2 free throws, Newbill answered again.
This time, he hit a floater to give Penn State a one-point lead with 22 seconds left.
But Minnesota’s Joey King erased the lead with 13.9 seconds left. King used a pump fake in the corner to draw a foul on Dickerson, missed the first free throw and sank the second to tie the game 76-76.
That set the stage for Newbill’s game-winner.
When his 3-pointer fell, his teammates on the floor and on the bench rushed to the senior guard to celebrate.
“You’ve got to trust your leader,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.
Notes: Penn State finished with 10 assists and nine turnovers; Minnesota had 16 assists and nine turnovers. … Newbill went 11 for 22 from the field and 5 for 11 from 3-point range. … Penn State outrebounded Minnesota 36-34. … King had 19 points for Minnesota and Andre Hollins had 13. Hollins went scoreless in the second half.