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U men eke out 75-70 win vs. Penn State after making big comeback

It took two years for Parker Fox to finally get on the floor to play for the team he grew up watching, so he was ready to play with his best effort for the Gophers on Senior Day.

Fox, who missed back-to-back seasons with knee injuries, gave everything he had Saturday, as if he knew this was likely one of the last two home games in his college career.

The rest of the Gophers didn't seem to have the same sense of urgency early, which led to having to rally back from a 23-point deficit in a 75-70 Saturday afternoon against Penn State at Williams Arena.

It was the largest comeback in a Big Ten game since 2021.

The Gophers (18-11, 9-9 Big Ten) won their fifth straight home game, but you wouldn't have been able to tell when they trailed 41-18 in the first half. They outscored the Nittany Lions 57-29 in the last 24 minutes.

A few days after scoring their most points in a regulation loss in nearly 60 years in a 105-97 game Wednesday at Illinois, the Gophers also had to rely on their defense to bounce back from a bad start. They held Penn State to 38% shooting in the second half.

Fox fueled the fire early with 11 points. Cam Christie had a game-high 19 points, including 13 in the second half. Elijah Hawkins finished with 18 points and eight assists. Mike Mitchell Jr. added all of his 11 points in the second half.

Big Ten men's basketball standings

Clearly, Ben Johnson's team saw carryover with the glaring lack of defense played in Champaign. The Nittany Lions (14-16, 8-11) weren't a Big Ten title contender or NCAA tournament team, but they were motivated to avenge an 83-74 loss Jan. 27 in State College.

It was almost as if the Gophers had trouble getting pumped up enough to play at their best early after so many missed opportunities for big resume wins this season.

The opponent didn't seem to matter for Fox, who was honored Saturday after the game with graduate transfer Jack Wilson, Will Ramberg and Jackson Purcell. The 6-8 sixth-year senior from Mahtomedi tied for a team-high with seven points, five rebounds and four blocks in the first half.

Fox, who got his first start of the season Saturday alongside Dawson Garcia in the frontcourt, scored the last two field goals in the first half to make it a 42-30 halftime deficit.

The Gophers were sparked by their emotional leader to pick up the effort on both ends in the second half, but they needed another offensive spark as well. Enter Christie.

Around the nine-minute mark, Fox's layup capped a 10-0 run, which made it a two-point game. The basket was set up by Elijah Hawkins, who picked up his 208th assist to break the single-season team record.

BOXSCORE: Gophers 75, Penn State 70

Christie made a tough floater in the lane and followed with a three-pointer to give the Gophers a 62-58 lead with 3:50 to play as the crowd erupted.

Penn State was rattled for a stretch but answered with five straight points from Puff Johnson and Ace Baldwin to pull ahead 63-62, but the Nittany Lions had already lost the momentum.

Mitchell, who had a career-high five steals, scored on a wide-open layup to start a 7-0 run that sealed the game. Christie and Hawkins also hit four straight free throws for the Gophers, who shot 24-for-27 at the foul line Saturday.

The Gophers twice squandered 20-point leads this season in losses to Missouri at home and Iowa on the road, but they turned it around in their favor after facing what looked at one point to be a seemingly insurmountable deficit.

Johnson's team had been second-half warriors before in erasing double-digit deficits in wins against Nebraska, Maryland, Michigan State and Penn State on the road.

The Nittany Lions, who had beaten Maryland and Indiana on the road this season, were led by Johnson and Baldwin with 19 and 17 points, respectively.