Penn State has never won three straight games against ranked opponents. Achieving that feat on Sunday won’t be easy.
No. 22 Minnesota will try to prevent that from happening, and win its eighth straight over the Nittany Lions, who seek a rare win at Williams Arena.
Minnesota (14-1, 2-1 Big Ten) is off to its best start in 60 years, and hasn’t lost to Penn State since Jan. 7, 2004 at State College. The Nittany Lions are just 1-14 at the Gophers’ historic venue, and look to avoid a seventh straight road loss to Minnesota since winning 82-62 on Feb. 14, 2001.
Looking to secure its best conference start since opening with four straight wins in 1996, Penn State (13-3, 2-1) will try to make school history by winning its third consecutive contest versus a Top 25 opponent.
The Nittany Lions beat then-No. 17 Indiana 68-64 in overtime to close out the 2007-08 regular season, then upset short-handed No. 14 Purdue 67-64 at home on Tuesday.
“I think everybody in the Big Ten takes Penn State seriously,” said Purdue coach Matt Painter. “Everybody in the Big Ten understands that they’re good.”
Though history might not be on their side, the Lions certainly have the talent to come out ahead in this matchup.
Against Purdue, conference scoring leader Talor Battle had 21 points with nine assists while Stanley Pringle added 18 for Penn State, which overcame a 39-percent shooting night and a 16-5 second-half run by the Boilermakers.
“We didn’t panic,” Nittany Lions senior guard Danny Morrissey said of a team that features four sophomores among its top seven players. “We’ve been down this road before. We know how to win now.”
Battle, averaging 18.9 points, and Pringle at 15.1 per game, are one of the top backcourts in the league and should provide a serious challenge for the Gophers, who look for a better overall effort after rallying for a 52-49 victory at Iowa on Thursday.
After scoring 19 points in a 76-73 home defeat to Minnesota on Jan. 27, Battle was held scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting in the Lions’ 75-68 loss on Feb.. 24 at Minneapolis.
Travis Busch and Russell Westbrook each had 10 points on Thursday for the Gophers, who overcame a 13-point first-half deficit against the Hawkeyes. Despite shooting a season-low 34 percent, Minnesota won its second straight since falling 70-58 at home to Michigan State on New Year’s Eve.
“It was really, really, really ugly. But whenever you win you can’t get too mad,” Westbrook said of the Gophers, who outscored Iowa 32-23 in the second half. “I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty.”
Westbrook is the only Gopher averaging in double figures at 12.8 points per game. The junior guard had 15 points, six rebounds and four assists in the most recent meeting with Penn State.