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Penn State Hoops Downs Minnesota 76-69

Penn State men’s basketball (16-11, 7-9 Big Ten) knocked off Minnesota (7-17, 1-13 Big Ten) 76-69 Saturday night on the road at Williams Arena.

Jalen Pickett exploded for 18 first-half points, behind a 7-for-9 shooting spurt to start the contest. The All-Big Ten caliber product finished the bout with 32 points for his second-straight matchup with 30 points or more.

Cam Wynter added 14 points in efficient fashion, capitalizing on 62.5% of his total attempts. The Nittany Lions held Minnesota to less than a 36% conversion rate throughout the second half to pick up the crucial road victory.

How It Happened

Minnesota controlled the opening tipoff, but a game-opening steal by Seth Lundy helped Penn State strike first on the other end. Cam Wynter buried a corner three pointer, giving the Nittany Lions an early 3-0 edge.

The barrage of early strikes from downtown continued, laregly impart to the matchup between Jalen Pickett and Minnesota’s Joseph Ola-Joseph. Ben Johnson’s squad matched the deficit with a Ola-Joseph deep conversion, but Jalen Pickett embarked on a hot streak with a his first three pointer of the matchup.

Ola-Joseph remained hot, accounting for eight of the Golden Gophers’ opening 10 points, but Penn State continued to hang around, tying the game up at 10-a-piece. The Nittany Lions then settled in, and scorched Minnesota for a 5-0 run. Kebba Njie streamlined the stretch with a strong post move, en route to establishing a 15-10 edge.

Penn State continued to garner production through its role players, including Kanye Clary, who posted his first two double-digit scoring outings against Maryland and Illinois. The combination of Clary and Seth Lundy put the Nittany Lions on top with 20-19 at the first half’s 11:52 mark, but Minnesota continued to hang around with the facilitation of Dawson Garcia at the point.

From there, Pickett’s takeover spectacle morphed into fruition. The All-American candidate exploded five-straight points in the form of a post-up and a step-back three pointer, putting Penn State ahead 27-21. The combination of Ola-Joseph and Garcia continued to give the Nittany Lions’ frontcourt fits, helping Minnesota tie the matchup up at 29-29 with just over six minutes left in the first half.

The trio of Andrew Funk, Lundy, and Pickett then made three-straight attempts, giving Micah Shrewsberry’s attack an 8-2 run. Minnesota attempted to claw back from the deficit with drives at the rim, but the Nittany Lions continued to one-up the opposition with hot shooting from beyond the arc. Heading into halftime, Pickett’s late surge contributed to a 45-35 lead on the road.

Directly out of the locker room, Minnesota exploded for a 7-0 run, forcing Shrewsberry to immediately burn a 30-second timeout. The decision proved to calm down the Nittany Lions, despite surrendering almost the entiretly of the lead with 13:29 to go. Across the opening seven minutes of second-half action, Penn State posted just three points on free throws from Wynter and Evan Mahaffey.

Pickett’s prowess wore the Golden Gophers down inside-and-out gradually. With 11:28 remaining, the veteran guard hit a clutch, step-back three pointer, putting Penn State ahead 53-52. He then willed the Nittany Lions on an 11-0 run, which helped the road sqaud secure a 61-52 edge heading into crunch time. Lundy contributed four points throughout the span on two ferocious drives.

Minnesota found itself a spark in Pharell Payne in the form of two second-chance layups, but post responses from Mikey Henn and Pickett kept Penn State in the driver’s seat, ahead 67-59 with 5:54 left.

From there, the Golden Gophers leapt out to a timely, 6-0 run, which helped Johnson’s group trail by only three with 4:25 to go. But, just how he has for nearly the entirety of the regular season slate, Pickett responded with a pair of turnaround scores in the post, giving Penn State a 71-64 lead with 2:49 left.

Without finding much success early in the shotclock, Minnesota was forced to settle for a closely-defended look with 1:43 to go. On the other end, Penn State garnered possess, and Andrew Funk put on a clinic. The Bucknell transfer delivered a dagger three-point try with 1:20 remaining, which gave Penn State a 74-66 advantage.

Pickett and Wynter notched free throws at the contest’s conclusion, and the Nittany Lions ultimately escaped Minneapolis with a 76-69 win over Minnesota.

Takeaways

  • Jalen Pickett is the Big Ten’s fiercest scorer, and the margin between first and second isn’t particularly close. Sure, Purdue’s Zach Edey is posting 22 points per outing, but the way Pickett is able to facilitate offenses is much more impressive than the Canadian’s staunch post presence. Over the last two conference bouts, the guard has elevated for 73 points on just 40 attempts. His efficiency is otherworldly, but the clip will have to remain steady for the Nittany Lions’ tournament hopes to stay levelheaded.
  • Andrew Funk has the clutch gene, folks. While the prominent scorer from Bucknell hasn’t consistently delivered quality road performances across the regular season gauntlet, the deep threat played second fiddle to Pickett tonight through casting and hitting several timely looks. With 1:20 remaining, the Pennsylvania product nailed a dagger to give Penn State an eight-point lead. From there, the Nittany Lions never looked back, and Funk proved to be the difference.
  • Penn State surrendered a 7-0 run to start the second half but responded with an 11-0 run of its own with just over 11 minutes of action left. Shrewsberry’s group hasn’t responded to adversity with results for the majority of the campaign, but tonight’s alteration should prove huge in keeping his squad’s NCAA Tournament chances alive down the stretch.

What’s Next?

The Nittany Lions will continue its two-game road stand at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 23 for a road battle with Ohio State. Action from Value City Arena will air live on FS1.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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