STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Win No. 20 was a close call for
Minnesota, but the Golden Gophers are hoping it's enough to lift
them to their first NCAA tournament berth under coach Dan Monson.
The win was the fourth straight for the Golden Gophers (20-9,
10-6 Big Ten) and helped solidify their hopes for an at-large bid
for the NCAA tournament. Minnesota also clinched a first-round bye
in next week's Big Ten tournament.
Minnesota reached the 20-win plateau for the first time since
the 1992-93 season and earned its first 10-win league mark since
1989-90. Monson believes both milestones should be enough to get
his Gophers into the NCAA tournament.
"I just think for us to have 20 wins and go 10-6 in the league
-- I think we have a great resume to look at," Monson said. "Right
now I think we deserve it."
Monson's players felt the same way, but reiterated the
importance of winning games in the Big Ten tournament.
"We can make things a lot easier," Minnesota center Jeff Hagen
said. "We think we're at the point where we deserve to be in the
tourney, but hopefully we can take the decision out of (the
selection committee's) hands."
The Nittany Lions (7-21, 1-14) lost their 10th straight and 15th
out of their last 16. Danny Morrissey led the way with a
career-high 22 points for Penn State, which also got 12 points from
Geary Claxton and 11 each from Aaron Johnson and Travis Parker.
Led by Grier's 12 first-half points, the Gophers looked poised
to run away with the game halfway through. But after falling behind
by 15 early in the second half, Penn State outscored the Gophers
23-11 in the next 10 minutes to pull within 61-58.
The run was fueled by the 3-point shooting of Morrissey, who
scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half on the strength of
five 3-pointers. He was 7-for-13 from the floor on the game and
6-for-10 from behind the arc.
The Gophers answered with a 9-4 run and effectively sealed the
game when Grier drove the lane for a basket with a minute
remaining, then hit a free throw on the next possession to put
Minnesota up 70-61.
Grier shot 8-for-13 on the game and when he couldn't score,
repeatedly drew fouls, going 11-for-14 from the line.
"Whenever I get going, they look for me early," Grier said of
his teammates. "I had a couple of slow starts earlier in the
season, but I know they believe in me and I believe in them."
Minnesota's zone-press defense frustrated the Lions from the
beginning of the game, forcing turnovers and poor shots that led to
a 40-26 halftime advantage for the Gophers. Penn State had nearly
twice as many turnovers (15) as it did field goals made (8) in the
"We haven't won a single game being pretty this year," Hagen
Penn State's 43 second-half points were an explosion for the
offensively deficient Lions, who scored just 39 total points in a
loss to Northwestern in February.
"It's been a long time since we scored 43 points (in a half),"
Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. "That was very, very positive.
It's always more fun when you can put the ball in the basket and
get some energy that way."