Penn State’s Brandon Taylor caught the ball well beyond the left block with Minnesota guard Nate Mason on his back.
Golden Gophers forward Joey King soon provided help, sending a double team at Taylor as Minnesota had throughout the game. The defensive rotations left Penn State guard Shep Garner open at the top of the key.
Taylor found him. Garner buried the 3-pointer.
“Brandon did the perfect thing,” Garner said. “He dribbled a couple times just to make the whole defense commit to him and found me at the top of the key. I mean Brandon made a perfect play. That was, I think, the gamechanger.”
The shot gave Penn State a one-point lead just more than two minutes after Minnesota went ahead by eight. It was part of a decisive run by the Nittany Lions en route to an 86-77 win Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State outscored Minnesota 16-0 during a run that lasted nearly five minutes and went into the final minute of regulation.
Payton Banks scored a career-high 24 points, Garner finished with 20 points and six assists, and Taylor had 18 points, six rebounds and five assists for Penn State (10-6, 1-2 Big Ten).
The Nittany Lions ended their recent run of extended losing streaks to start Big Ten play. Penn State opened conference action on six-game losing streaks each of the last two seasons. The year before, the Nittany Lions lost their first 14 Big Ten games.
“I was proud of these guys because there was a big elephant in the room and on our backs because the last three years, I don’t think we won a game until late January, early February,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “And for these guys to step up the way they did and not go, ‘Oh, here we go again,’ or woe is me, I thought our huddles, especially in the last six or seven minutes were terrific.”
Minnesota (6-9, 0-3) started to gain some separation, going ahead 71-63 on a 3 by King with 6:06 left. Penn State called a timeout.
Garner said Chambers told the team to “pick it up.”
The Nittany Lions responded with its run, highlighted by Garner’s 3. Penn State freshman Davis Zemgulis hit a pair of free throws to start the comeback. Two minutes later, Garner drilled the 3-pointer on the assist by Taylor.
On Minnesota’s ensuing possession, the ball landed in Charles Buggs’ hands with the shot clock winding down. Buggs started to rise for a 3-point attempt from the left wing, but Taylor was there to challenge the shot.
Instead of shooting, Buggs threw a pass toward halfcourt, leading to a shot-clock violation. Taylor looked into the crowd and waved his arms after the Minnesota turnover. The Golden Gophers had burned the Nittany Lions throughout the game, but Penn State got stops down the stretch to pull away.
Chambers said a smaller lineup and more switches contributed to the improved defensive effort.
Chambers and Banks also said the team played harder.
“We stopped being lazy,” Banks said. “We stopped giving them shots basically.”
Minnesota took a 36-32 lead into halftime after going 7 for 12 from 3-point range. The Gophers came into Tuesday night shooting 33.6 percent from beyond the arc — ranking 13th in the Big Ten.
The Gophers stayed hot out of the break, hitting their first five field goals, including two 3-pointers. Minnesota finished 11 for 20 (55 percent) from 3-point range and 52.1 percent from the field.
Chambers mentioned the lackluster defensive effort after expressing his pride in the way his team answered Minnesota’s runs in the second half.
The Nittany Lions owned the biggest run of the game.
Penn State outscored Minnesota 23-6 in the final six minutes.
“We didn’t deserve to win that game,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “They did.”
Notes: Zemgulis played a season-high 25 minutes. He finished with seven points. … Josh Reaves had nine points, and Jordan Dickerson added eight points for the Nittany Lions. … Penn State shot 61.5 percent from the field in the second half and 50.9 percent from the field for the game. … The Nittany Lions had 15 assists and 10 turnovers. Minnesota had 11 assists and 17 turnovers. … Penn State hosts No. 5 Michigan State at noon Sunday.