MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Court storming is all the rage in college basketball this season, and Minnesota and Penn State both joined the party this week with huge wins over opponents with lofty rankings.
Only one of them was able to carry over that momentum into the next game.
Trevor Mbakwe had 13 points and 13 rebounds and Minnesota held Penn State scoreless for the first 11 minutes of the game to cruise to a 73-44 victory on Saturday.
Julian Welch had 10 points and seven assists and Rodney Williams had 10 points and seven rebounds for the Golden Gophers (20-9, 8-8 Big Ten), who regained their waning confidence in a big week in which they also toppled No. 1 Indiana at home.
“We can go real far,” Mbakwe said. “Final Four or bust.”
D.J. Newbill scored 15 points for Penn State (9-19, 1-15) but made just 2 of 16 field goals, and the Lions weren’t able to sneak up on Minnesota like they did No. 4 Michigan earlier this week. They trailed 16-0 before getting their first basket of the game with 8:42 to go in the half.
Joe Coleman scored 12 points and Andre Hollins had 11 for Minnesota, which held Penn State to 27 percent shooting.
“We felt like we were really confident enough to come in here and steal one on the road,” Newbill said. “But you know unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.”
Coach Tubby Smith started all four seniors on Senior Day. Rodney Williams and Mbakwe have been linchpins in this Gophers season while Welch and Andre Ingram have been relatively minor role players on Minnesota’s beleaguered bench.
After not playing at all against Indiana — his first DNP of the season — Welch hit his first two shots of the game and the offensively limited Ingram hit a soft baseline jumper for a 7-0 lead, and the Gophers were off and running. Even though it came against woeful Penn State, the dominating victory was an encouraging sign for a team that has gone through wild swings from high to low this season.
The Gophers started the season with 15 wins in 16 games, rising as high as No. 8 in The Associated Press Top 25. Then they lost eight of 11 games, including embarrassing performances at Iowa and Ohio State, to tumble out of the rankings and leave some doubt about their NCAA tournament bid. Their card was in all likelihood punched with a dramatic victory over the Hoosiers on Tuesday night, which followed losses at Iowa and Ohio State by a total of 47 points.
“Since those losses we really sort of recommitted ourselves to playing better,” Smith said. “And it shows in our performance.”
Sparked by their two seldom-used seniors, the Gophers laid it on Penn State on both ends of the floor. They forced four turnovers and pounded the Lions on the boards in the first 10 minutes and Maverick Ahanmisi hit a 3-pointer for a 16-0 lead. Williams finished the first half with a monstrous alley-oop dunk on a poorly thrown lob pass from Welch, giving Minnesota a 34-12 lead at the break.
“We’ve always believed we can beat anybody,” Williams said. “It’s up to us. We just have to come out and play with the fight and intensity we did these last two games and we can play with anybody in the country.”
Three days ago, Jermaine Marshall and the Lions were swarmed by their giddy home fans, who stormed the court after Penn State beat Michigan 84-78. They hit 10 3-pointers in the game to wipe out a 15-point deficit and snap an 18-game losing streak in the Big Ten.
“That definitely caught our attention,” Williams said.
There would be no comeback this time. The Lions missed their first 11 shots, went 3 for 14 from 3-point range and were beaten 46-30 on the glass. Marshall finished with 10 points, the only other Penn State player in double figures.
“Senior night, they were coming off a very emotional high,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “As a coach … you need to do a better job getting my guys prepared because there were so many exterior factors that went into that game before the game even started. Tried to prevent it. Just couldn’t do it.”
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