MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team rode a pair of sophomores Wednesday night in a 75-69 win over Penn State in front of more than 9,000 fans at Williams Arena.
Marcus Carr scored a game-high 27 points, added nine assists, six rebounds and committed just two turnovers. Daniel Oturu recorded another double-double with 26 points and 14 rebounds as the Gophers (10-7, 4-3) got above .500 in Big Ten play and beat a Nittany Lions team that entered the national rankings last week for the first time in more than 20 years.
They did it on the defensive end in the second half, holding Penn State to seven made field goals after they shot 60 percent from the field and scored 46 points on the first half. It came down to playing scrappy in the second half.
“We allowed them to do whatever they want and I told them at halftime you can’t allow the other team to dictate the rules, especially in your building,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said.
Minnesota’s defensive intensity over the final 20 minutes bothered the Nittany Lions. Penn State had a stretch where it missed 13 straight shots and went 1-of-17 from the field, and went more than 12 minutes without making a shot from anywhere other than the free throw line. They shot 24 percent in the second half.
It started with stopping star forward Lamar Stevens. He finished with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting, but had only one easy basket on the night. Jarvis Omersa and Alihan Demir were tasked with containing the NBA prospect.
“He’s a good player, he’s a strong dude. Just knowing the scout, knowing his tendencies and stuff like that and really putting him into the works,” Omersa said.
After the game, Pat Chambers called Omersa a junk yard dog with his constant energy and defensive intensity.
“He plays so hard, he knows his role, he knows who he is and Richard uses him perfectly off the bench. We need a couple of those on our team,” Chambers said.
The Nittany Lions had the lead at half after shooting 60 percent from the field, 50 percent from the perimeter and not committing a single turnover.
Things changed in the second half, with the offensive part of the rally being led by Carr and Oturu. While Penn State had all kinds of difficulty making shots, the Gophers went on a 13-2 run, capped by Oturu’s 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Gophers a 69-61 lead.
When it wasn’t Oturu taking it to the Penn State defense, it was Carr. The sophomore transfer got a steal with 1:03 left in regulation, took it the length of the floor, scored and was fouled to give the Gophers a 74-64 lead and all but seal the win.
Oturu played nearly 38 of 40 minutes, Carr never left the floor. Pitino never thought of taking his sophomore guard off the floor.
“He’s only a sophomore and he doesn’t look like a sophomore out there. I’m excited about the future for him, he’s going to keep getting better and better,” Pitino said.
Every possession means something in a Big Ten game, so Carr wasn’t about to waste his opportunity when he got the chance to put the game away.
“It was a huge possession, it was a huge loose ball. We were losing the loose ball battle at halftime, so it was definitely something we focused on,” Carr said. “I would say it was a pretty key possession in the game that allowed us to really separate ourselves into double digits. That was huge for us. All I was thinking at the time was just getting the ball, just to secure that stop and get that possession for us.”
It was a pivotal home win for the Gophers, and protecting the home court is a must in the Big Ten. That said, Minnesota hits the road for three of its next four games, starting Sunday afternoon at Rutgers. They then head to Ohio State before hosting Michigan State, then heading to Illinois.
The win didn't come without some chippy play from both teams. Oturu and Mike Watkins were each issued technical fouls in the second half, and Oturu had some choice words for Stevens in the post game hand shake. There was plenty of jawing most of the game, and the Gophers weren't backing down.
It appears taking a few lumps against Power 5 opponents early in the non-conference season has the Gophers ready to grind through the Big Ten slate. Pitino sat with his boss, Athletic Director Mark Coyle, before Wednesday’s game and talked about how much he likes coaching this current team. He has eight or nine players of the 14 on roster who have at least a 3.0 grade point average, and they consider themselves a family.
On a bitterly cold night in Minneapolis, the fans that were at Williams Arena were loud. It was a true home court advantage in the second half. The Gophers have now won three of their last four and six of their past eight.
“You have to win at home in this league, it’s so hard. Fans were great, that was a late game. We needed a great crowd, it seems like people took advantage of the beer discount which was great. Hopefully we continue to pack this place because it’s a fun group of guys,” Pitino said. “I really like coaching these guys. There’s no drama, and we’re not playing a lot of guys so it’s really nice to see that they care for each other.”