On Saturday, the No. 24 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-3, Big Ten 3-2) took a business trip to University Park, Pennsylvania, to take on the youthful Penn State Nittany Lions (10-7, Big Ten 2-2) inside the Bryce Jordan Center.
As the game fell underway, Minnesota quickly set the tone. The Golden Gophers controlled the lead throughout the entire first period, behind a collective team effort. As Minnesota prospered, Penn State lacked efficiency, shooting just 29 percent from the field in the first. The Nittany Lions would close the period down, 32-22.
However, as Penn State marched on the hardwood to kick off the second half, an abundance of drive and energy followed. The Nittany Lions began to shape an unlikely comeback midway through the second, manufacturing a 7-0 run to bring the deficit within four points. Minnesota fell into a slump, opening up the doors for Penn State.
The final stretch revealed a hard-fought Big Ten battle, as the Nittany Lions persevered in front of a vigorous home crowd. Penn State would go on to pull off another big-time win, upsetting Minnesota, 52-50.
Let’s see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Penn State’s Bench Can Make A Sizable Impact.
While freshman Tony Carr, may have cemented Penn State’s win with his two free-throws, the spotlight remains on the team’s bench. Redshirt freshman forward Mike Watkins, was the standout player of the game, as he contributed 15 points and fifteen rebounds in the win. Watkins shot 6-of-9 from the field, while dominating on both ends of the floor. Throughout the match, Watkins was mobile. The 6’ 9” big man consistently generated open space in the paint, providing his team with numerous scoring opportunities. While he may not have started the game, Watkins proved that he has what it takes to emerge as a starter moving forward. Watkins wasn’t the only bench player to have a sizable contribution in the win. Junior forward Payton Banks, added 10 points and four rebounds on the afternoon.
On every team, it’s important to have bench players that can step up when the team’s stars are unable to produce. After freshman guards Lamar Stevens and Tony Carr, combined for just 6 points, bench play came in handy for the Nittany Lions. Despite shooting just 30 percent as a team, Penn State managed to pull out a meaningful Big Ten win. With Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin lined up as Penn State’s next three opponents, this win will provide the team with a surplus of momentum.
2. Minnesota Must Limit Turnovers.
Minnesota and Penn State each concluded Saturday’s matchup with an excessive amount of turnovers. However, it was the Golden Gophers, who would suffer the loss, turning the ball over an astounding twenty times, compared to the Nittany Lion’s nine. After a strong showing in the first half, Minnesota crumbled down the stretch.
Minnesota looked lost, as Penn State continued to feed off of their home crowd’s liveliness. If Minnesota wants to find success this season, they must take care of the ball. After failing to capitalize on their 14-point lead in the first, Minnesota can’t afford to let up. This marks Minnesota’s third conference loss this season. In order to stand on top of the conference with Purdue and Wisconsin, average play will not suffice.
3. Penn State Is A Team To Watch.
If you haven’t gotten a chance to watch Penn State this season, tune in.
Last Saturday, not too many people could have foreseen this team adding meaningful wins over Michigan State and Minnesota to their resume. In both matches, the Nittany Lions displayed a resilient effort, where both their bench and young stars rose to the occasion. Penn State was able to work their way back from a 14-point deficit against Minnesota, after failing to hold the lead throughout the entire first half.
If that doesn’t show the heart of this team, I don’t know what does.
Stevens, Banks and Shep Garner are all among the top-thirty scorers in the Big Ten this season, while Watkins sits as a top-five rebounder in the conference. This young team has all the pieces to stay competitive in tough matches this year. While they may not be an elite team just yet, Penn State is rapidly developing. With the Nittany Lions upsetting both of their opponents in their last two games, don’t be surprised if they are able to do so again this season.
Penn State will look to shock the Big Ten once again, as they set their sights on Purdue. Minnesota will hope to bounce back from this loss against an elite Wisconsin squad. While tough roads await Minnesota and Penn State, both have shown that they are capable of causing a stir in conference play.