In a result so surprising, it caught the entire TDG staff off guard and delayed a recap by a good 13 hours, the Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions in overtime, 95-84, to snap a 3-game losing streak. Not only was the game outside the friendly confines of The Barn, Penn State is a decently talented squad who ranks 56th in KenPom. This wasn’t the Gophers pulling one over on Rutgers. This was a hard-fought victory over a team that had NCAA Tournament aspirations at the beginning of the season.
Jordan Murphy registered a monster 22 point, 19 rebound, 3 assist, and 2 steal performance. Nate Mason had 25 points including 4-of-5 from the three point line. Dupree McBrayer had an ultra efficient (and career high) 24 points on 8-13 from the field. But in a season that has been full of uncertainty and unusual happenings, of course the hero in overtime would be a freshman who has played just 24% of the team’s available minutes this season.
Jamir Harris decided to ball out on his 20th birthday. He scored 10 of the team’s 21 points in overtime, including back-to-back threes that crushed the spirits of the opposing crowd. He finished with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and zero turnovers. The freshman looked for his shot when given the opportunity and capitalized on the hot streak. The Gophers as a team shot nearly 59% from long range and 53% from the field overall.
Furthermore, they out-rebounded the Nittany Lions by 11 and held a 13-point lead with just under 9 minutes remaining in the contest. But due to a defense that only forced 4 turnovers all game, poor free throw shooting as a team, and a bizarre head kick by Gaston Diedhiou, the Gophers allowed the home team to claw back into contention. This culminated in a disastrous sequence of events that allowed Penn State to tie the game at the end of regulation with a Tony Carr three-pointer. Based on what we had seen in the most recent stretch of games, it was safe to assume the Gophers would fade away in overtime under the weight of large playing times and a failure to finish the job.
But birthday boy Harris, in combination with hot-as-a-frying-pan Dupree, put an end to such doubts. The Gopher made their first four shots in overtime to put an exclamation on a game that could signal a new chapter of the season. Mason played the entire game, Murphy logged 43 minutes, and McBrayer registered 41 minutes. Despite these heavy loads, the Gophers may have found a much needed spark in the offensive breakout of Harris. If Mason, McBrayer, and Harris can bomb away from three, while Murphy cleans up the slop on both ends, the Gophers may be a feisty out against a majority of the mediocre Big Ten.
On a down note, highly touted freshman Isaiah Washington continues to befuddle Gopher fans and Coach Pitino alike. He registered 2 minutes of playing time in a game that included overtime. All he could muster was a single turnover.
No one will mistake Penn State for Purdue or Michigan State, but this was a team who was rated more highly by KenPom than the Gophers and, as we all know, getting an away win in the Big Ten, regardless of opponent, is extremely tricky. Perhaps this win was the confidence boost the remainder of the roster needed to put together a better run of play than we have seen in the last two weeks.