GAME NOTES: The Penn State Nittany Lions return home to the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday night for a Big Ten Conference bout with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
After opening up Big Ten play on Jan. 2 with a 63-60 loss at the hands of Michigan, Minnesota moved to 1-1 in the league on Sunday afternoon with an 82-79 triumph over Purdue for its seventh win in the past eight games. The Gophers are now an impressive 12-3 overall this season, which includes a win in their only true road game at Richmond on Nov. 16 (74-59).
PSU has stumbled out of the gate against conference competition, falling at home to nationally-ranked Michigan State on New Year's Eve (79-63) and at Illinois on Saturday afternoon (75-55). Despite their slow start in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions are a solid 9-6 this season, including 6-3 on their home floor.
Minnesota holds a convincing 21-6 advantage over PSU in the all-time series, which includes wins in five of the past six outings.
The Gophers led Purdue by as many as 19 midway through the second half of their most recent game, and while they saw that advantage dwindle to just three in the final minute they managed to hold on. They connected on 52.2 percent of their field goal tries in the victory, including 11-of-24 from 3- point range, while also helping themselves from the free-throw line (23- of-27). Austin Hollins led the way with 18 points and nine rebounds, Andre Hollins tallied 17 points and five assists and DeAndre Mathieu and Malik Smith poured in 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Minnesota shoots a mediocre 43.6 percent from the field on the season, but thanks to its more than eight 3-pointers per contest and strong team free- throw percentage (.763), it is able to score 76.5 ppg, which is 10.6 ppg more than it allows. It is also aided greatly by positive margins in the rebounding (+4.2) and turnover (+2.7) battles. Andre Hollins puts up 15.9 ppg to pace the team, while Austin Hollins brings 13.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 1.7 spg to the table. Mathieu (11.3 ppg), Smith (9.9 ppg) and Elliott Eliason (6.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.5 bpg) round out the balanced squad.
The Nittany Lions put forth their worst effort of the season in their most recent 20-point loss to Illinois, shooting less than 30 percent from the field while committing 26 personal fouls, which allowed the Illini to shoot 28-of-35 from the free-throw line. John Johnson was one of the few bright spots for the squad in the setback, shooting 4-of-6 from 3-point range on his way to 18 points off the bench. Tim Frazier added 10 points but did so on just 3-of-11 from the field.
PSU has been a much more efficient scoring team than it showed the last time out. It shoots 46 percent from the field, 35.5 percent from 3-point range and 74.7 percent from the charity stripe for 78.3 ppg, but it oftentimes gets in trouble in allowing opponents to score nearly as many points (73.7 ppg). D.J. Newbill is the top scoring option with 18.0 ppg, doing so on 50 percent shooting from the field. Frazier is another integral cog in the machine, scoring 16.9 ppg, while handing out 6.9 apg, which is tied for seventh-best in the nation. Johnson has played in just three games but has been productive with 13.3 ppg, while Brandon Taylor (10.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Ross Travis (10.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg) have also been impressive.
While PSU has played well at home and has the scoring threats to keep pace with Minnesota, its less than impressive defense has hindered it so far in Big Ten play. Expect the Gophers to overcome their road surroundings to pick up their 13th win.
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