Westbrook’s 15 points pace Minnesota past Penn State 75-68
MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Lawrence Westbrook led Minnesota with 15 points, helping the Gophers hold on against Penn State with a 75-68 victory on Sunday to move back to the .500 mark in the Big Ten standings.
Westbrook made all six of his free throws on an afternoon when the rest of his team struggled at the stripe. Lawrence McKenzie had 11 points and Blake Hoffarber added 10 points off the bench for Minnesota (17-9, 7-7), which kept alive a slim chance of getting invited to the NCAA tournament.
Jamelle Cornley had 20 points, and six turnovers, for the Nittany Lions (12-14, 4-10), who lost their sixth straight road game. Cornley was the only Penn State player to score in the second half until just more than 5 minutes remained in the game.
David Jackson had 19 points and eight rebounds and Danny Morrissey added 14 points for Penn State, which has been hampered by the season-ending knee injury to star Geary Claxton. The Nittany Lions have not won at Williams Arena since Feb. 14, 2001.
The Gophers have been stuck in the middle of the conference all season, showing the current discrepancy between top and bottom in the Big Ten. They’re still winless against the five teams ahead of them, and they nearly blew this one against an opponent they need to beat.
Penn State trailed 65-54 with 4 1/2 minutes left and cut the lead to 66-64 on a 3-pointer by Morrissey two minutes after that. McKenzie answered with two free throws and a big rebound of Stanley Pringle’s missed 3-pointer. Westbrook, on the next possession, put the game away with a rebound of McKenzie’s miss and a drive to the hoop for a short bank shot.
Cornley became the 16th player in Penn State history to reach 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.
The Gophers played passive perimeter defense and let Penn State—which shot 63.6 percent in the first half, including 6-for-9 from 3-point range—build a lead as big as 13 points.
Jackson, a freshman who received a medical redshirt last season because of a broken leg, led the Nittany Lions charge and surpassed his career high of 10 points in less than 10 minutes.
Minnesota went more than five minutes without scoring in one stretch and fell behind 31-18, shooting at the same basket as the Gophers women’s team in the second half of Saturday’s game against Wisconsin. The women finished with 18 straight missed field goals.
On one possession, Al Nolen and McKenzie bricked 3-pointers, Dan Coleman missed two short tip-ins, and Nolen’s floater in the lane bounced off the back rim and out.
Minnesota had plenty of time to push back, though, and used a 17-6 to end the half and hustle downstairs to the locker room with a two-point deficit.
The Gophers scored seven straight points over 97 seconds to tie the game at 35, when Kevin Payton stole the ball from Cornley, passed up court to freshman Blake Hoffarber. With the poise of a senior, he hauled in the pass over his head, pivoted, faked, dribbled forward and swished a 3-pointer.
The momentum carried over. Westbrook led a fast break early in the second half and whipped a behind-the-back pass to the trailing Tollackson, who threw down a heavy dunk and giddily sprinted back as if he was still a senior at Chaska High School and he had just won the state championship.