Penn State Men’s Basketball Tops Minnesota in 1st Round of Big Ten Tournament
It was a tale of two halves for Penn State.
After heading into halftime trailing by four, Penn State responded with a strong second half to top Minnesota in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, 60-51. This marks the Nittany Lions' first win over the Golden Gophers in the tournament, previously they were 0-4.
While both sides came out of the gates ice cold, they were able to pick up the scoring heading into the first media timeout with Penn State up with 14:23 left, 7-6.
Jameson Battle started to catch fire and the Gophers were able to go up. Penn State took the lead back, but it hit a scoreless stretch and the Gophers took advantage of it.
Minnesota got it done on both ends to spark an 8-0 run and take a 22-15 lead with under eight minutes.
The blue and white pulled within one with a run of its own, but the Gophers took the lead into the break, 28-24.
Battle had a team-high eight points for Minnesota, while Pickett led all players with nine points for Penn State, with both teams struggling to find a rhythm.
Coach Micah Shrewsberry talked about what adjustments he looks for during a stagnant half of play.
“We prepare for what they do and then you try and attack it,” Shrewsberry said postgame. “Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to see if they've changed something or to kind of settle into the game. I didn't feel like we settled into the game in the first half.”
The Nittany Lions threw the first punch out of the break and were working downhill with Sam Sessoms and Pickett to open up the shots from the perimeter to grab the lead, 33-32 with 15:38 left to go.
Whatever offense was lacking in the first half came alive the second half as the squads started to trade punches.
Penn State kept working inside the painted area, which opened up the 3-ball. Seth Lundy hit a pair of tiples before Pickett hit another to ignite the lead and put the Nittany Lions up by seven with just over five minutes left.
Shrewsberry touched on Pickett’s toughness, playmaking and ability to understand the game as to why he’s so dangerous.
“The guy doesn't get rattled and the guy never comes out of the game and he doesn't complain one bit,” Shrewsberry said. “That takes a lot, takes a lot of heart and he's a competitor, he's a warrior.”
Then, with just about two minutes left to go the Nittany Lions landed the knockout blow.
Pickett found John Harrar wide open underneath for a basket. Harrar got a block on the other end, and then Pickett buried a beautiful turnaround jumper to put Penn State up by eight.
After making some free throws at the end, Penn State was on its way to the next round. Pickett finished with a game-high 22 points, while Sessoms and Lundy followed him with 14 and 11 points, respectively.
Battle led the Gophers with 19 points, in a game where the starters played practically the entire game. EJ Stephens was the only player coming off the bench, and only played 51 seconds.
It was a close game for a while, but Pickett cited the fatigue as a reason as to why they pulled away.
“Coach Shrewsberry does a great job with the game plan,” Pickett said following the win. “We knew as the game went on, we had to make a run. We just had to keep following the game plan.”
With the victory, Shrewsberry picked up his first career postseason win, right in his hometown of Indianapolis.
A couple of Nittany Lions hit career milestones, as Harrar became the sixth player in program history to record 800 points and rebounds and Pickett eclipsed the 1,500 career points.
Even with the accolades, Sessoms and his teammates have one thing on their mind as they prepare to take on Ohio State on Thursday at roughly 9 p.m., a team who bested the blue and white in both meetings.
“I just want to win with this group of guys,” Sessoms said. “Coach Shrews said in the beginning of the year this is the last chance, this is the only chance you'll get with the group of guys that's in the room.”
Matthew Scalzo is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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