The season finale at Minnesota was a game Penn State needed just to keep their slim NCAA tournament hopes alive. The Lions led for much of the second half, but then the clock went inside of three minutes and things started to get crazy. Minnesota had the ball and was dealing with a two-point deficit. Penn State was playing much better defense in the second half and forced forward Rodney Williams to take a wild fade-away on the baseline with the shot clock running out. Incredibly, Williams made the shot to tie the game at 54.
That sent the Barn into a frenzy, as PSU had finally completely relinquished the 8-point advantage it had held at the 11-minute mark. The Lions had scored just two points since then, but with the pressure on, they suddenly found themselves in time for a fight to the finish.
Penn State's first possession after the Williams shot started out poorly as Talor Battle missed a field goal, but David Jackson recovered with an offensive rebound. He was fouled going up for the put-back and converted both freebies to make it 56-54. It was then that Blake Hoffarber came out of the phone booth. Yes, this was amazingly the first PSU/Minnesota game I remember watching in which the broadcast didn't flash back to Blake's amazing from-the-seat-of-his-pants high school championship shot, but that didn't stop Hoffarber from trying to produce some more flashback worthy material this afternoon.
Although Tim Frazier had been playing great defense on Hoffarber all day, it wasn't until this point that the Gophers started to take advantage. Frazier had been great closing out on potential Hoffarber jumpers, so Minnesota countered with a back door screen that set up Hoffarber for a layup. The senior guard absorbed a foul on the play, and he didn't waste the opportunity to put the Gophers up by one 57-56.
State struck back quickly as Battle hit a contested three pointer from the corner to give PSU the lead again 59-57 with 1:38 left to play. Amazingly, the Gophers answered with what seemed like the same exact play as before. Hoffarber came open on a back screen and this time it was a little tear drop in the paint that he nailed for a tie game.
Unfazed, the Lions responded with a great ball-movement possession that culminated in a wide open Jeff Brooks 3-pointer from the top of the key. He put it in for a 62-59 PSU lead. On the other end, the Gophers found Rodney Williams deep in the paint against Brooks. His turnaround effort was no good, but Brooks committed a foul on the shot. Williams' first free throw was good, but the second rimmed out. That seemed like sweet news for PSU until Andrew Jones tipped the ball out of bounds with one hand. It seemed he was spooked by the shadow of Trevor Mbakwe looming over him from behind. Whatever it was, it could have been a costly mistake.
I say "could have" because Ralph Sampson III took the extra possession into his own hands by launching a 25-footer with still over 20 seconds on the shot clock. The ball missed everything and State took over with a 62-60 lead with 31 seconds left.
Now Minnesota needed to foul. Penn State inbounded to Battle, who immediately attempted to escape his maroon and gold adversaries. Instead of taking the foul, Battle lobbed the ball ahead for Frazier, and the wayward pass was less than a foot away from going out of bounds. The speedy Frazier saved the ball and took the necessary foul.
Two made free throws from Frazier allowed Penn State the slightest bit of breathing room at 64-60, but it didn't last long. Hoffarber used a crossover dribble to create a bit of space between himself and Frazier. He used the space to hit a mega-clutch 3-pointer from the left wing and cut the lead to one with 14 seconds left. Blake would get one more chance to at least tie the game.
Battle allowed the Gophers to foul him this time and put in both free throws to ensure the Lions wouldn't lose in regulation. On the other end, Hoffarber's final try to extend the game from the left wing hit the front of the rim to give Penn State the victory.
Minnesota is now pretty much done unless they can manage to win the Big Ten Tournament title. The Gophers are the 9 seed and will play the 8th seeded Northwestern Wildcats in the first round. If Minnesota can win that one, they have a match-up with Ohio State to look forward to. Penn State is on the outside looking in, but if they can get by Indiana in the first round of the tourney, they have a chance for a major win in the second round versus either Purdue or Wisconsin.