Saturday, February 6, 2010

Gopher Hoops Bailed Out in the End

Lawrence Westbrook's deep jumper as time expired allowed the Gophers to escape snowy State College, PA. The senior's 19-foot jumper came just seconds after the Gophers allowed Penn State to tie the score with ten seconds remaining in the game, and the 66-64 win evened Minnesota's Big Ten mark at 5-5.

With Minnesota leading 64-62 with less than 40 seconds remaining in the game, the Gophers inbounded to Westbrook - one of the team's best foul shooters - and the senior stood almost motionless, expecting to be fouled. Instead, Penn State tied-up the basketball, forcing a jump ball and giving the Nittany Lions possession. In Penn State's subsequent possession, a loose ball eventually found its way to Talor Battle, who laid the ball in for a 64-64 tie. Electing not to call time out, the Gophers ran the length of the floor, and Westbrook's shot sealed the win.

Ralph Sampson III and Damian Johnson led the Gophers with 13 points apiece, and Sampson's two blocks in the game's final minute were crucial. He also added 10 boards in another solid effort. Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber each scored 12, with Hoffarber's points all coming courtesy of the three-point basket. The starters (the four listed above plus Devoe Joseph) accounted for 54 of Minnesota's 66 points on the afternoon.

For Penn State, Battle had another solid game, pouring in 20 points. Forward David Jackson added 18. Penn State is now 0-11 in Big Ten play, the worst start since joining the league in 1993.

Minnesota shot 47% from the floor and held Penn State to just 40% shooting.

14-8 Minnesota's next contest is this Thursday at home against Michigan. The Wolverines are struggling again this season at 11-12 and just 4-7 in Big Ten play. This is a game which the Gophers can and must win.

This is a game Minnesota had to win to keep its slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive, but it's unrealistic to believe tournament teams have to go to the buzzer to defeat an 0-11 team - home or road. The Gophers proved once again that closing games out is a huge struggle and are lucky to escape with a victory. Of course, after last Sunday's embarrassment at Ohio State, this team will take a win.

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