Blocks at the Barn: Lynch, Gophers deny Penn State
MINNEAPOLIS — Reggie Lynch enjoyed the Williams Arena crowd chanting his name on Saturday after block after block against Penn State. At one point, Lynch let himself show his appreciation, smiling and pointing to the crowd.
The Minnesota Gophers are having fun again.
Lynch had nine points and set a career-high 11 blocks, one off the Minnesota record, while Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy recorded double-doubles in the Gophers’ 81-71 win against the Nittany Lions on Saturday.
Mason had 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Murphy had 16 points and 16 rebounds and Dupree McBrayer added 15 points off the bench for Minnesota (22-7, 10-6 Big Ten), which won its seventh game in a row and avenged an earlier loss at Penn State.
“When the chant was going on, our team was doing really well,” Lynch said. “That’s mainly what I was focused on. The chant was awesome but it was really everyone on the court was connected and we’re all celebrating each other’s success.”
Tony Carr had 20 points and seven assists, while Shep Garner scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Nittany Lions, who have lost three straight. Penn State had just five turnovers, all in the first half, but shot 35.5 percent.
“Our shots stopped falling and we just couldn’t get any stops on defense,” Carr said. “They were clicking on all cylinders with Mason coming off the ball screens and with Lynch being down low and they had shooters all around them, so we just couldn’t get no stops.”
Excluding the vacated season of 1996-97, the Gophers have won seven games in a row for the first time since 1978.
Lynch’s big performance left him one block away from Mychal Thompson’s school single-game record. Yet, Lynch and coach Richard Pitino were just as thrilled with one other aspect of Lynch’s game – no personal fouls.
Lynch entered the game leading the Big Ten Conference in blocks and ranking third nationally with an average of 3.1 blocks per game. However, Lynch had fouled out of eight games this season.
“Honestly, the zero fouls is more impressive,” Lynch said. “I know I can get 11 blocks. It’s just whether they want to tally it up. It was very good for me and the team that I stayed out of foul trouble.”
PLEASANT WALKS AROUND CAMPUS
Pitino said few people stopped him around campus while the Gophers struggled to eight wins all of last season. Now he’s getting stopped with an important question, and one he’s glad to answer.
“I think we can be pretty good,” Pitino said. “I think it’s OK to say that we’re in the NCAA Tournament. We would be the first team in the history of college basketball to win 22 games and not make the tournament. I have so many people come up to me and say, `Do you think you’re in?’ Like, `Yeah, we’re in.'”
Minnesota hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since the 2012-13 season, Tubby Smith’s final year as coach before Pitino was hired.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions stayed close by hitting 5 of 8 from 3-point territory before missing seven in a row. As the percentage dwindled to match its season average (34.1 percent), Penn State’s hopes of hanging with the more inside-focused Gophers declined. The Nittany Lions finished 7 of 21 from 3.
Minnesota: The Gophers controlled the paint on both ends of the floor, a good sign if Minnesota hopes to make noise in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. Murphy had his 10th double-double of the season — and fifth in six games — as the Gophers outrebounded Penn State 49-40 and held a 34-30 scoring advantage in the paint.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions return home and host Ohio State for their final home game of the season on Tuesday.
Minnesota: The Gophers hope to continue their streak in their final home game of the season on Thursday against Nebraska.