by: Daniel House
Photo: University of Minnesota
Big Ten road games are never easy, especially when your opponent is on a five-game winning streak. For the first time since 2011, Penn State sold out Saturday’s game at Bryce Jordan Center. In front of a hostile crowd, two top Big Ten players traded punches. Forward Lamar Stevens and Minnesota center Daniel Oturu each had career-high performances, but Stevens' 33 points sparked the Nittany Lions’ 83-77 victory.
Oturu went toe to toe with Stevens and posted a career-high 32 points and 16 rebounds. The Gophers trailed by 19 points with 15:53 remaining, but Oturu and guard Marcus Carr brought Minnesota back. After scoring just two first-half points, Carr eventually found his shot. Right out of halftime, he tallied 18 points in 10 minutes. Carr also dropped a beautiful transition bounce pass to Alihan Demir for a key layup. The Gophers pulled within three points, but couldn’t close the gap any further.
Leaky rebounding and the backcourt’s lack of rhythm
Carr and Oturu single-handedly broke Minnesota out of an inefficient offensive stretch. Carr aggressively drove to the rim and drilled a trio of second-half 3-pointers. Oturu was extremely physical and displayed his smooth footwork in the post.
Despite a very slow start, the Gophers managed to fight back. In the first half, Minnesota had just one assist on nine made field goals. Penn State strongly hedged ball screens and created disruptions around the perimeter. Guards struggled to split defenders and dribbled into crowded areas. However, when the ball was fed to Oturu, productivity quickly skyrocketed. The inside-out action and isolation designs were extremely effective and gave the Gophers’ big man room to work. Minnesota should be doing everything it can to increase the number of touches Oturu receives.
Early in the game, the Gophers weren’t consistently in rebounding position. During a 6-0 Minnesota run, two poor box-outs created second-chance 3-pointers for Penn State. Stevens connected from downtown and extended the Nittany Lions’ lead back to seven points. The Gophers shot just 30 percent in the first half, including 0-for-7 from behind the arc. On the other end, Stevens had success when dribbling against Alihan Demir. Demir struggled to move his feet, so Stevens aggressively drove to the basket. In the final minutes, Pitino eventually adjusted by having Oturu defend him.
The Gophers again had trouble getting the backcourt involved. Gabe Kalscheur continues to miss open shots and finished 3-for-8 from deep. Kalscheur often hesitates, which causes him to double-clutch. When he is coming off a screen or moving in transition, his rhythm dramatically improves. It seems the vast majority of his made 3-pointers are in those situations. With 19:08 remaining, Kalscheur finally connected from downtown. However, just one minute later, he went to the bench with four fouls. The Gophers’ backcourt simply struggled to handle Penn State’s aggressive perimeter defense. After scoring a season-high 21 points in Wednesday’s 70-52 win over Wisconsin, Payton Willis had just three points on 1-for-6 shooting. Again, Minnesota’s guards collectively missed open shots. When this happens, court spacing significantly diminishes. Despite these shooting woes, the Gophers nearly compensated and created space by finding touches for Oturu.
Throughout the afternoon, head coach Richard Pitino kept rotating his lineups. Ten players saw action in the first half, including guard Bryan Greenlee and forward Michael Hurt. Forward Isaiah Ihnen also played nine minutes and provided value on the defensive end. It’s clear Pitino is searching for ways to incorporate more players.
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Tag(s): Gopher Basketball