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Penn State Basketball

Penn State Loses 23-Point Lead in Big Ten Loss to Minnesota

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Ace Baldwin

Saturday’s matchup against Big Ten foe Minnesota was a case of déjà vu for the Penn State men’s basketball team.

After surrendering a 16-point second half lead and falling to the Golden Gophers by nine on Jan. 27 in State College, this time around was much of the same for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State led by as many as 23 points in the first half and held a 12-point advantage at the break, but Minnesota used a stellar performance over the final 20 minutes to defeat the Nittany Lions 75-70 at the Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

Penn State (14-16, 8-11) dropped to 4-23 all-time playing inside “The Barn”. The Nittany Lions also snapped their streak of scoring 80 points in three consecutive games.

Throughout the 2023-24 season, Minnesota (18-11, 9-9) made the most of its home court advantage, improving to 13-4 inside the Williams Arena with one game to play.

As of Saturday, Penn State and Minnesota are also projected to matchup against each other again in the second round of the upcoming Big Ten tournament next week.

Senior guard Puff Johnson got the start for the Nittany Lions on Saturday, replacing D’Marco Dunn in the lineup, who was dealing with flu-like symptoms. Dunn came off the bench to tally two points in limited minutes.

Johnson provided an offensive spark for the Nittany Lions right off the bat, knocking down his first three shots, including going 2-for-2 from long range, to produce eight of Penn State’s first 10 points.

Johnson came into Saturday’s contest averaging just 6.3 points per game, but after knocking down his third trey, doubled his season average within the game’s first five minutes. The North Carolina transfer ended the first half with 14 points, going 5-of-6 from the field and 4-for-4 from 3-point range, before finishing with 19.

Five early lead changes led to Minnesota going front 8-7 on two Cam Christie free throws just over four minutes into the game.

Penn State followed with an 11-0 run, and after the Golden Gophers tallied back-to-back buckets, scored another 12 straight points to build a 30-12 advantage.

The Nittany Lions, who knocked down nine of their first 11 3-point attempts, received three straight makes from behind the arc courtesy of two from Ace Baldwin Jr. and another from Johnson, plus a baby hook inside from Qudus Wahab, to grab its biggest lead of the first half at 41-18 at the 5:04 mark.

Minnesota answered by forcing four of Penn State’s six first half turnovers in the final five minutes to close the frame on a 12-1 run and go into the break down 42-30.

The Golden Gophers then began the second half making seven of its first 10 shots, as Minnesota used a 10-0 run to close Penn State’s advantage to 53-51.

After the two teams went back-and-forth, Minnesota grabbed its first lead since the game’s opening minutes, 59-58, on a Christie floater with 4:39 to go. Christie knocked down another 3-pointer to cap a nine-point run.

Penn State briefly went back in front following an and-one from Johnson and two free throws by Ace Baldwin at the 2:44 mark, but Minnesota responded with a seven-point run to go ahead.

The Golden Gophers sealed the win by going 6-for-6 at the free throw line in the final minute. In total, Minnesota was 24-of-27 at the charity stripe. Penn State was 9-for-11.

Penn State, after relying heavily on the 3-point shot early on, made just two of its final 12 attempts on the way to being outscored 45-28 in the second half.

Minnesota’s Christie matched Johnson for the game-high tally of 19 points. Baldwin scored 17 for Penn State.

The Nittany Lions will take on Maryland in the final game of the regular season on Sunday, March 10, at the Bryce Jordan Center.

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