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NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Penn State

Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State nearly blew a 19-point second half lead, but Lamar Stevens’ career high scoring performance kept Minnesota at bay.

Given how well Penn State had been playing lately, especially being fresh off a huge upset win at Michigan State, one should have expected a higher-than-usual attendance for a Saturday afternoon home game rematch against Minnesota. What may not have been expected however, was the Bryce Jordan Center’s first sell-out since March 2011, which coincidentally, was also the last time PSU made the NCAA Tournament.

With a nearly full-to-the-rafters “White Out” crowd cheering them on, PSU jumped out to an 11-4 start, thanks to some quality free throw shooting from Lamar Stevens and Seth Lundy (who nailed all three of his FT’s after being fouled in the act of shooting a three-pointer). The Gophers however, would claw their way back with Daniel Oturu leading the charge (he scored eight of Minny’s first 10 points).

Right as it seemed Minny might take their first lead of the game, PSU responded with Lamar and Myles Dread nailing back-to-back threes to push the lead back to seven. From there on, PSU played some very solid defense to hold every Gopher player not named Daniel Oturu in check, holding Minnesota to just 30 percent shooting from the floor in the first half. Lamar meanwhile, continued to play like a man who hadn’t forgotten that testy post-game handshake moment with Oturu, racking up 17 points in the half, which allowed the Lions to take a 36-22 lead going into the locker room.

The second half saw PSU picking up where they left off, as the team used their aggressiveness to attack the rim and continue to keep Minny at bay, leading by as many as 19 at one point. With the Lions seemingly in control, the Gophers to their credit, never said “die” and would claw their way back, thanks to Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur catching fire by picking up the scoring slack, and nailing several treys to spark the rally.

With six minutes to play, PSU was clinging to merely a three-point lead when Lamar Stevens completed an old-fashioned three-point play and Myles Dread, who was filling in a starting role for Myreon Jones , who missed the game with an illness, followed it up with a cold-blooded trey with Carr closely guarding him, to PSU back up by nine with 3:13 left.

PSU would utilize clutch free throw shooting down the stretch to deny the Gophers the rally and the sweep. When it was all said and done, Lamar had reached a new career single-game high of 33 points and PSU more importantly, kept their winning streak intact, now standing at six straight victories. That streak will certainly be tested once again in West Lafayette this Tuesday when the team faces Purdue, but for now, the climb continues in a positive direction.

PPP and Four Factors

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Both teams ultimately shot the ball very well, Minnesota with 44 percent and PSU with 50 percent, hence the high PPP’s. The difference-maker here was PSU getting twice as many trips to the free throw line (26 to Minnesota’s 13). Granted, PSU did have their issues down the stretch making FT’s to help ice the game, finishing only 19-for-26 (73 percent), while Minnesota hit 11-fo-13 (85 percent).

Random Observations

  • In addition to it being the first sell-out in nine years, it was also a day of celebrations at the BJC: First, you had many former players such as Talor Battle , Geary Claxton , and Pete Lisicky being honored at halftime on the floor, as part of Alumni Day. Additionally, it was “Everyone is Awesome” Day at the BJC, which honored special needs persons. Lamar has been heavily involved with the special needs community, and even authored an illustrated book that was recognized today.
  • It sure was refreshing to see a PSU team that moved the ball around well and was aggressive in taking the ball to the rack, as opposed to standing around the perimeter for 25 seconds before jacking up a contested three-pointer that drew iron. It played a big part in PSU shooting 50 percent from the floor today and ultimately helped them to stave off the Gophers’ furious rally
  • The back-and-forth scoring battle between Lamar and Oturu was one to watch. Both players finished with 30-plus points (Oturu scored 32), and the two hugged each other in the postgame handshake line, this time around. Lamar in his postgame presser, had the following to say about this:
  • In years past, when a guy like Myreon Jones would have to miss a game, it would have been a crippling blow to this team. Thanks to a deep bench however, we saw Dread step up in a starting role, as well as Curtis Jones and Izaiah Brockington (who seemed to drive past defenders for an easy layup every time he got the ball). Overall, the bench contributed 24 points, which was just enough to get the job done.
  • I think it’s safe to call this game the hoops equivalent of the football team’s nail-biting White Out win over Michigan last October. In that game, PSU also jumped out to a big lead early on and seemed to be on their way to routing their opponent, before the opponent put on a serious, heart attack-inducing rally. Thankfully in both instances, PSU held on, and we all can breathe a huge sigh of relief over them.

Up Next

Penn State (18-5, 8-4) travels to Purdue this Tuesday, in their only meeting with the Boilermakers this season. Tip-off will be at 6:30 PM ET on BTN.

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