STATE COLLEGE – Jamari Wheeler swiped the basketball from Minnesota’s Marcus Carr and flipped it to teammate Izaiah Brockington as Brockington glided past the Nittany Lion logo at midcourt.
After a few steps, Brockington made his ascent to the rim and punctuated the transition sequence with a one-hand dunk.
Penn State used plenty of plays similar to that Saturday as the No. 22 Nittany Lions defeated Minnesota 83-77 before a sold-out crowd of 15,261 at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“What a great atmosphere,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “I’m so thrilled that everybody likes this team, and they came out today to support this team. I can tell you this, when (Minnesota) cut the lead to three, and we got some stops, the fans got back into it and gave us just enough energy and push to be able to finish the game off.”
The Nittany Lions held the Golden Gophers to just 22 points at the half, but Daniel Oturu and Carr scored 18 points apiece as part of a 55-point Minnesota second half.
Six fouls were called on Minnesota in the first four minutes of the second half. Penn State (18-5, 8-4 Big Ten) was 19-of-26 from the free-throw line.
“We were in the bonus within four minutes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “We settled in defensively after that. I thought that zapped us a little bit. I mean, they made 19 points from the foul line. When we stopped fouling and the game got going a little bit, we were able to flow a little bit more offensively and defensively.”
Minnesota (12-11, 6-7 Big Ten) erased a 19-point, second-half deficit to cut Penn State's lead to 71-68 with 4:48 remaining in the second half.
Lamar Stevens scored on a layup and a free throw on Penn State’s next two possessions, and Myles Dread made a contested 3-pointer to extend the Nittany Lions’ lead to 77-68 with 3:13 remaining.
Penn State’s lead never dipped below six points after that.
“Years before, when I was younger playing a game like that, my mind would start racing, kind of have a panic attack. We were only up three at that point, and we were just up almost 20 at a point in time,” Stevens said. “But now, I just try to keep everybody composed because I know what we’re capable of. And it’s just about really getting your mind back to focus on what we’re going to do”
The Nittany Lions were without starting guard Myreon Jones, who was unavailable due to illness.
“Obviously, MJ being sick kind of hurt our in-game stuff because he usually has the ball in his hands,” Chambers said.
Penn State received 21 points from its bench in Jones’ absence.
Stevens finished with a career-high 33 points to go with seven rebounds and one block. Brockington recorded 10 points and five rebounds. John Harrar — who was tasked with guarding Oturu for most of the contest — recorded eight points, seven rebounds and two steals.
Harrar logged 33 minutes as foul trouble limited fellow center Mike Watkins to just six.
“John’s ball-screen defense was unbelievable for most of the game,” Chambers said. “In the second half, he kind of let Carr split it or get out of it, and that’s why they got a couple of weak-side 3s. Even though (Oturu) had 32 points, I thought he had to work for most of it. He had to earn those 32.”
Oturu scored 26 points in the Golden Gophers’ 75-69 home win on Jan. 15. That contest ended with a heated exchange between Oturu and Stevens during postgame handshakes. On Saturday, Stevens and Oturu hugged postgame and exchanged pleasantries.
“We’re just both competitors, and that’s what we talked about,” Stevens said. “We just competed in an extremely high-level game, and I think it was just mutual respect at that point.”
The Penn State faithful inside the Bryce Jordan Center made sure it let Oturu know it didn’t forget the minor dust-up last month in Minneapolis. From postgame warmups to the end of the contest, Oturu was greeted by a chorus of boos any time he touched the basketball.
Oturu shrugged off the unfriendly reception to finish with a team-high 32 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks. The Big Ten’s second-leading scorer recorded his 22nd straight double-digit contest.
Carr finished with 20 points and six rebounds for the Golden Gophers. Minnesota’s third-highest scorer, Gabe Kalscheur, ended with 11 points.
The Golden Gophers’ bench combined for four points.
“Offensively, putting up 55 points in the second half versus a terrific defense is great,” Pitino said. “We cut it to three (points) and obviously didn’t make the plays. We obviously wore down, but they’re really, really good, too. You give them credit.”