Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook's 19-foot fade-away jumper as time expired stunned the crowd at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center, and thwarted a Nittany Lions rally, as Minnesota held on for an important 66-64 Big Ten victory on Saturday afternoon.
Westbrook, who scored 29 points earlier this season against the Nittany Lions, finished Saturday's game with 12 points to help the Golden Gophers defeat Penn State for the 10th time in their last 11 meetings and improve to 14-8 overall and 5-5 in the Big Ten. Penn State, which won last year's postseason NIT, fell to 8-15 overall and remains winless in the Big Ten at 0-11.
Minnesota led by nine points, 53-44, with 9:33 remaining before Penn State started to cut into the Gophers' lead. The Nittany Lions twice cut it to two points in the late stages, but Minnesota was able to maintain its lead until a basket by the Nittany Lions' Talor Battle tied the game at 64-64 with nine seconds left.
Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith had two timeouts remaining, but chose to let play continue, so that Penn State would not be able to set up its defense. With about four seconds left, Westbrook took a feed from sophomore guard Devoe Joseph near the top of the key, then dribbled to his left and fired up a jumper over the outstretched arm of a PSU defender as time expired, and the ball swished through to send the Gophers' bench into hysterics. After a review of the play to make sure that Westbrook's shot had left his hand in time, the officials verified that it clearly had, giving Minnesota the much-needed road win.
Sophomore forward Ralph Sampson III was a key cog for the Gophers, as he finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for his third career double-double. Sampson made 4-of-6 field goals and was 5-of-6 at the free throw line, while also blocking three shots and dishing out a pair of assists in 26 minutes. Senior forward Damian Johnson also scored 13 points to go with five rebounds, and junior guard Blake Hoffarber keyed a strong first half by making 3-of-5 three-pointers for nine of his 12 points. Hoffarber finished 4-of-7 from beyond the arc in the game.
Penn State was led by Battle's 20 points, five steals, and five assists, while David Jackson added 18 points and six rebounds, and Chris Babb finished with 12 points.
For the game, the Gophers made 21-of-45 (.467) field goals, including 5-of-16 (.313) three-pointers. A key to the Gophers' victory, though, was solid shooting at the free throw line, where Minnesota made 19-of-25 (.760) attempts to just 13-of-20 (.650) for the Nittany Lions. Minnesota also held a 32-26 advantage in rebounding, with four of the Gophers' five starters having at least five boards in the contest.
The Golden Gophers now look ahead to Thursday, when the Michigan Wolverines will visit Williams Arena for a 6:00 p.m. tipoff set to be televised on ESPN.