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Gophers buckle down for big win over Penn State

Bring Me The News' Mathew Goldstein has the details.

The Gophers continued their winning ways in Minneapolis, defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions 75-69. The win brings them to 4-0 in Big Ten home games, 4-3 in Big Ten play overall.

It was the CO and co. show again, with Marcus Carr (C, 28 points, 9 assists) and Daniel Oturu (O, 26 points, 14 rebounds) leading the way as Minnesota overcame a slow start to pick up another win.

“You can’t allow the other team to control the game at home,” said coach Richard Pitino. “We gotta be scrappier. And in the second half, we were.”

Here’s just where that scrappiness took hold:

Second-half defense. After Penn State shot an absurd 60% in the first half, 18-30 from the field and 5-10 from downtown, the Gophers clamped down, holding the Nittany Lions to just 7-29 shooting in the second. Penn State missed 22 of their final 25 shots, at one point going 1-18 over an extended stretch. Some of those were simply open looks they failed to convert, but no team has a shooting night like that without defense playing a big role.

Carr called the first half showing “unacceptable” before praising his team’s effort in the latter twenty minutes, mentioning six forced turnovers after zero at the break. 

“We buckled down and knew we had to get this tough win," said Carr. 

Team rebounding. The Gophers’ rebounding paid dividends again, out-dueling a physical Penn State team 48-32 and picking up 18 offensive rebounds which led to 18 second-chance points. It wasn’t just Oturu, either, as Kalscheur (7), Carr (6), Omersa (6), Demir (4), and Willis (4) all hit the glass. Penn State coach Pat Chambers had special praise for Omersa after the game, calling him a “junkyard dog” who “plays so hard and knows his role.” He did also, obviously, mention Oturu’s length.

The two studs. Despite the team contributions, the play of Carr and Oturu can’t be glossed over. After a combined 53 points both are now in the top five in scoring in the Big Ten, as well as the top five in minutes played, with Oturu leading the conference in rebounding and Carr coming in second in assists. Without them, it’s not crazy to think this team would be winless in the Big Ten. As it is, the Gophers are above .500 in the nation’s toughest conference and a fluky, double-overtime road loss away from having won four of five in league play.

One other fun tidbit: after Oturu hit a big three late, stretching the lead to 69-61 and effectively sealing the game, the PA announcer yelled, “Daniel O-three-ru!”

“I like that, I don’t know if I like O-three-ru,” said Pitino, laughing, of his big guy playing beyond the arc. “As long as the ball goes in the basket.”

It wasn’t all a laughing matter, however, as another slow start nearly cost the U. Here are two things they’ll have to improve on:

Inability to capitalize. The game was nearly lost in the first half as Penn State not only shot 60%, but did it with three starters stuck on the bench for more than half the opening period with two fouls, including the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer, Lamar Stevens. With Stevens sitting for the final seven minutes, the Nittany Lions went on a 10-0 run, out-scoring the Gophers 17-15 and taking a lead into halftime. Bench play hasn’t been a strength all year, but getting beaten by an opponent’s bench can’t happen. Fortunately for Minnesota, there was another twenty minutes to play.

Backcourt three-point shooting from guards not named Marcus Carr. Kalscheur and Willis combined to go 1-13 from downtown. Kalscheur was 0-7, the third time he’s missed seven or more threes in a Big Ten game this year, bringing his total from beyond the arc to 8-49 in conference play. Willis’ 1-6 gets him to 8-33 in league games. It isn’t that they’re forcing the shots, either; both are getting good looks, they’re just not falling. “He’ll bounce back,” his coach said of Kalscheur. “I have zero doubt, he works too hard.”

The team will need them both to bounce back. It was a good win (every Big Ten win is a good win) but it came against Penn State that’s lost their last two by a combined 30 points. Next up are two road tests: Rutgers, 12-0 at home, followed by a rematch with Ohio State, 10-1 in Columbus.

In the words of Pitino, “Now you gotta find a way to do it on the road if you want to take the next step.” Indeed, we’ll see if they can do that.

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