Game Grades: Men’s Basketball vs. Minnesota
In front of the first sold out Bryce Jordan Center crowd since 2011, No. 22 Penn State (18-5, 8-4) came into Saturday’s contest seeking vengeance against a Minnesota (12-11, 6-7) opponent who narrowly bested the Nittany Lions earlier this season. The Nittany Lions made sure their fans didn’t go home disappointed, as they took care of business versus the Golden Gophers, claiming victory 83-77.
The Nittany Lions have now won six straight and have a legitimate opportunity this year to not only claim the Big Ten crown, but to also make some noise in March. Let’s hand out some game grades and see how each individual unit fared in the big win.
With Myreon Jones out due to an illness, the entire team stepped up in his absence. It was a classic team effort on offense. Lamar Stevens led the way from the jump. It was a relatively slow first half outside of Stevens, who started fast and didn’t slow up.
Stevens finished with a career high 33 points and was doing a little bit of everything. He was efficient inside, getting to the foul line, knocking shots down from his usual mid-range spots, while also hitting a couple of very timely three-point shots.
Penn State’s team identity is its defense and rebounding ability. The players have shown that they understand this, and the way that Penn State conducts its offense by playing unselfishly and making smart decisions is going to produce points. Players will score and find ways to contribute.
Penn State’s depth and firepower at guard was especially evident versus the Golden Gophers.
Izaiah Brockington was the only other player in double figures for the Nittany Lions, however the victory was a complete team effort. When Penn State’s half-court offense began to stall in the second half, Brockington took over on offense with a couple of quick drives to the rack. He also lit up the Bryce Jordan Center at the end of the first half with an emphatic breakaway dunk.
Penn State was shooting well from the foul line all game – until the final moments of the second half. Missed free-throws down the stretch, which could’ve sealed the game, gave the Golden Gophers additional opportunities. If this team plans to make a run in the Big Ten tournament, and furthermore in March, converting from the foul line in crunch time is crucial.
Penn State’s defense in the first half was fantastic. Minnesota was held to 30% shooting, 0-for-7 from three and only 22 points. Although in the second half, Minnesota’s offense found much more success. It felt like the Golden Gophers were making everything. They shot 54% from the field, 47% from three and scored 55 points to produce a comeback effort that would ultimately fall short.
Daniel Oturu was mocked and ridiculed by the Penn State student section from the moment he was introduced pregame. However, Oturu seemed unphased by all of the boos and jeers as he tallied a team-high 32 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, five being offensive.
Oturu and John Harrar were dueling down low all game. Oturu began to best Harrar towards the end, however his stat line doesn’t indicate how well Harrar actually played him. Harrar was playing solid, tough defense. Oturu was just playing better offense.
Oturu and Marcus Carr accounted for 52 of Minnesota’s 77 points. Carr scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half.
Overall, it was an exceptional defensive outing. The Big Ten’s leading team in steals was only able to generate three. However, Penn State’s effort proved to be enough. The defense on Minnesota’s final chances due to missed free-throws was stifling and denied the Golden Gophers much real opportunity.
Minnesota’s offense began to click in the second half, so one must wonder about the halftime adjustments (or lack thereof) made by Pat Chambers and the coaching staff. Then again, Minnesota was simply hitting the majority of their shots in the second half and sometimes nothing can be done about that..
Chambers deserves some credit for calling appropriate timeouts to rally his troops on the way to a resilient win. Chambers also deserves recognition for putting together a win without Jones, one of the team’s top options on offense.
Chambers has his players understanding their identity as a team, focusing on strengths en route to success, which makes Penn State an extremely fun team to watch. The maturity and growth of the team has really been highlighted as of late.
Zach Donaldson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.