Minnesota defeated Penn State 65-64 yesterday at Williams Arena. With the win, the Gophers move to 14-4 on the season and 4-3 in conference play. Jordan Murphy led all Minnesota scorers with 19 points.
You might be forgiven for turning off the game early. Minnesota came out listless on both ends of the floor, and Penn State’s Lamar Stevens scored at will for much of the first half. The Gophers had a difficult time initiating their offense (what’s new) and struggled to adjust to Penn State’s aggressive (some would say grab happy) defense. At the half, Minnesota was down 8 points.
The second half was a different story. Not in the sense that Minnesota became more productive of offense. They did not. For the game, the Gophers shot an effective field goal percentage of 43%. That is a heinous stat. What was different is that the Gophers clamped down on the defensive end, limiting Penn State to bad shots and then cleaning the glass to prevent second opportunities. There is an open question about what identity, if any, the Gophers have. I do not believe that question was answered yesterday, but I can say with confidence that Richard Pitino would like their identity to be a stout defensive team. For the closing 12 minutes, the Gophers more or less acted like that. Fake it till you make it.
Minnesota also started to send the ball inside on a regular basis. That led to an excellent overall game from Jordan Murphy, but as important, led to lots of fouls. The Gophers shot almost one free throw for every two field goal attempts, an excellent number. If the offense is not working, and that happens with regularity, the Gophers need to get to the foul line. Once there, they also need to make their free throws. Yesterday, Minnesota did both. As a team, they were 22-30 from the line which is a respectable percentage. Dupree McBrayer made one of two free throws at the end to seal the win.
Jordan Murphy returned to a Jordan Murphy like 19 points and 21 rebounds. The senior has struggled the last few games against size and double teams. Against Penn State, Murphy returned to the mindset of getting rebounds, which paid off in a big way. Murphy added a highlight reel put back dunk late in the game to give Minnesota a small edge. That is the senior that we need to see.
Speaking of seniors, Dupree McBrayer put up 9 points in 35 minutes. None were more important than the single free throw he made at the end of the game. Certainly, I would prefer he make both, but as Murphy said after the game when McBrayer made the free throw I felt deep relief.
Amir Coffey had another poor night shooting (3-11 from the field) for 11 points and 4 turnovers. Fortunately, he went 4-5 from the free throw line.
Strong side eye to the officiating crew for what was quite possibly the worst officiated game I’ve seen in the last two seasons. Had Minnesota lost, I would not have blamed the refs. That 43% eFG would have been the prime candidate. Since Minnesota won, I am happy to include their poor performance in the recap. I’m not a Penn State fan so I will not speculate whether Penn State feels aggrieved, though I do not think they should. From the Minnesota perspective, I will say that it is interesting to watch an officiating crew miss every moving screen and call a foul on Murphy for getting elbowed in the face and Coffey for making a normal defensive play. Please never have this crew work another Minnesota game.
Lamar Stevens is very good. Go pro and get your money.