Minneapolis -- When Minnesota found itself trailing by five points early in the second half of Tuesday night's Big Ten-opener at Williams Arena, it was in need of a spark. In stepped Lawrence Westbrook.
The senior guard from Chandler, Ariz., helped the Golden Gophers rally by scoring 18 second-half points on his way to tying a career-high with 29 points. The end result was a 75-70 win over Penn State before a sellout crowd of 14,625.
Westbrook made 11-of-16 field goals in the contest, including 4-of-5 from three-point range after halftime, and Minnesota (10-3, 1-0 Big Ten) opened conference play with a win for the first time in head coach Tubby Smith's tenure. The victory also stretched Minnesota's winning streak to six games, and improved the Gophers' record at home to a perfect 9-0 this season.
Minnesota led 34-27 at halftime, before Penn State opened the second stanza by making seven of its first 10 field goal attempts to pull ahead, 44-39, at the 13:54 mark. But the Gophers, who had struggled from beyond the arc in the first half by making just 2-of-10, began to warm up from three-point range to make it a short-lived lead for PSU.
Junior guard Blake Hoffarber made a trey to cut it to 44-42, then Westbrook knocked in a long-range jumper to pull the Gophers back within 46-45, and Hoffarber made another three to tie it at 48-48 with 11:07 left. The game's last tie took place following a three-pointer by PSU's David Jackson, which knotted it at 56-all with 7:02 remaining.
But Westbrook proceeded to take things into his own hands, scoring eight points over the next 2:39 to give Minnesota a five-point margin, 66-61, with 4:23 left, and the Gophers protected their lead by making free throws down the stretch to hold on for the win.
Hoffarber, who had led Minnesota in scoring in each of the previous five games, finished with 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc, while senior forward Damian Johnson added seven points to go with team-highs of six rebounds and three steals. Junior point guard Al Nolen chipped in with solid all-around totals of six points, six assists (one turnover), five rebounds, and two steals.
Penn State (8-5, 0-1 Big Ten) was paced by 23 points from All-Big Ten guard Talor Battle, who made 5-of-8 three-pointers in the loss, while Andrew Jones added 12 points and a game-high eight rebounds, and Jackson scored 11 points for the Nittany Lions.
As a team, Minnesota made 28-of-57 (.491) field goals, including 8-of-22 (.364) treys, with the Gophers connecting on 6-of-12 from long-range after halftime. Penn State made 26-of-54 (.481) attempts overall, and 9-of-18 from beyond the arc, including 6-of-10 trifectas in the second half. The Nittany Lions held a 33-28 advantage on the boards, but turned the ball over 16 times. The 75 points scored by the Gophers were the second-highest total surrendered by Penn State this season.
Minnesota will now play its next two conference games on the road, starting with Saturday's game at Iowa. That contest will be televised live by the Big Ten Network, and is set for a 3:00 p.m. tipoff in Iowa City.