Minnesota senior Lawrence Westbrook, who was mildly called out by Damian Johnson and Tubby Smith prior to Saturday's game at Penn State, lifted the Gophers to a 66-64 win with a buzzer-beating fall-away jump shot that had no business going in.
With four seconds left, moments after Penn State's Talor Battle tied the game at 64 with a layup after a scrum, Westbrook took the ball from Devoe Joseph at the top of the key and dribbled to his left. He was well-defended, but pulled back, and with a hand in his face nailed a long jumper as time expired. Minnesota's bench erupted. They've lost so many games in the final minutes this year that to finally pull one out, even if it was against the Nittany Lions who are now 0-11 in the conference, it had to feel great.
It was one of those shots that would typically be considered a bad shot, but as someone stated in the comments section of the game thread, Westbrook just might be the best bad-shot maker the Golden Gophers have ever seen. He does seem to find a way to make some ugly looking shots!
More impressively, in my opinion, was how Westbrook played the entire game. I didn't notice him trash-talking. I didn't notice a bad temper. And while Battle certainly beat him on a few occasions, I didn't notice any glaring defensive lapses. All three of those things were complaints leveled at Westbrook in the article linked above. For the better part of the game, Westbrook was having trouble getting his offense. But he didn't force his offense and didn't get out of control the way we've seen him all season. This was a different Westbrook, one that was going to let the game come to him. He finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds, three assists, and too many turnovers (6).
While Westbrook grabbed the spotlight with his clutch game-winning shot, it was Ralph Sampson III that stood out most of the game. He had 13 and 10 double-double and was easily the most dominant on the glass I've seen him during his career. His aggression on the glass was obvious. He was above all others and snatched rebounds out of the air. It was aggression out of Sampson and it was great to see. I also loved at one point his ability to grab a rebound and immediately turn and find the outlet pass. His back-to-the-basket offense still wasn't pretty. But it was serviceable and the inside presence the Gophers need.
The Gophers needed Sampson and others in the half-court offense because transition baskets were few and far between. The Gophers only turned the Nittany Lions over 11 times. Minnesota, in contrast, turned the ball over 13 times. Minnesota hasn't typically won this year when they haven't won the turnover battle and scored in transition.
Blake Hoffarber added 12 (all threes on 4-7 from beyond the arc), and Damian Johnson played well as he added 13 points. Johnson showed a knack to be able to get to the free throw line, where he shot 7-9. Minnesota as a team actually had a very nice game from the foul stripe, shooting 76 percent, a nice improvement from the 68 percent the team has shot on the year.
The Nittany Lions were of course paced by Battle, though he was slowed for much of the first half. And he was just 7-19 from the floor and 3-7 from the free throw line. David Jackson added 18 points for Penn State.
As has been said elsewhere, this was a must win for the Gophers if they still have a chance at the NCAA Tournament. We'll see if they can keep some momentum on their sides when Michigan comes to Williams Arena on Thursday.