MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Penn State put the ball in D.J. Newbill’s hands and let the Big Ten’s leading scorer go to work.
At the end of another long winter for the Nittany Lions, the senior guard gave them a moment to savor.
Newbill dribbled the clock down in the backcourt, squared up and calmly swished a 3-pointer at the buzzer to finish with 31 points and lift Penn State to a 79-76 victory over Minnesota on Sunday afternoon.
“You’ve got to trust your leader,” coach Patrick Chambers said.
Newbill went 11 for 22 from the field, including 5 for 11 from 3-point range, to help the Nittany Lions (16-15, 4-14) stop their six-game losing streak. He also knocked down a one-handed floater from the lane with 22 seconds left to give Penn State a one-point lead.
Joey King, who scored 19 points on a career-high five 3-pointers for the Golden Gophers (17-14, 6-12), pump-faked Jordan Dickerson in the air to draw a foul and two free throws with 14 seconds remaining. He split the pair, setting Newbill up for the dramatic finish.
With a three-inch height advantage on Nate Mason, Newbill noticed the freshman backing up as he started to move in position. So the decision was made: shoot instead of drive. Mason jumped to get a hand right in his face, but Newbill didn’t flinch.
“I guess he was trying to send me to his help,” Newbill said. “So I just rose up over him with confidence.”
This was just Penn State’s second victory at Williams Arena in the last 12 visits since 2001, but the Nittany Lions notched the sweep of the season series for the second time in five years. After losing three conference games by three points or less and two more in overtime, Penn State was due.
“Coach is always telling us, ‘Keep tapping at the stone,’” Newbill said. “Coach said in the huddle, ‘We’ve been working on end-of-game situations for the last six months. Now it’s time to go out there and put it on the floor.’”
For the Gophers, this was their eighth loss in the Big Ten by six points or fewer. Half those came by three points or less.
“I think they’re competing. We’ve just lost a lot of close games that could’ve gone either way,” coach Richard Pitino said.
Mo Walker had a career-high 26 points plus 11 rebounds, but Andre Hollins, another one of the five seniors playing their final home game, went scoreless in the second half after tallying 13 points before the break. The Gophers fell into the bottom four seeds for the conference tournament, forcing them in one of the two play-in games.
That means they’ll have to win five games in five days to reach the NCAA tournament, and without a strong showing in Chicago their chance to defend that NIT title might not materialize, either.
“We don’t want to leave any of our careers with a sour taste in our mouths, so it would be good to get some extra games,” said Hollins, his voice faltering and his eyes watery. “But we’re not thinking about the NIT right now.”
King was a bit more upbeat.
“We have a lot of great guys,” he said, “and I think we’ll be able to regroup just fine.”
Geno Thorpe scored 14 points for Penn State, which became the sixth opponent in Minnesota’s last eight games to make 10 or more 3-pointers and shoot 40 percent or better from behind the arc.
Pitino started every senior but Walker, including walk-on guard Kendal Shell and center Elliott Eliason, who fell out of the regular rotation after starting 60 games over his first three seasons, and Walker quickly established himself on the block after leaving the bench.
With a noon tipoff time after the start of daylight savings time and an unremarkable opponent, the crowd was quiet in the first half and the Gophers didn’t help the energy level. Hollins had quite a burst with 3-pointers on three straight possessions in the early minutes, but Penn State put together a 10-0 run over the middle of the half to pull away. The advantage grew as big as 13 points shortly after the intermission, before Walker and King led the surge by the Gophers.
Penn State: Ross Travis had 8 points and 6 rebounds in his last game in his home state, playing a half-hour drive northwest of his high school in Chaska.
Minnesota: Hollins needs 31 more points to move past Randy Breuer into third all-time on the program’s all-time scoring list behind Mychal Thompson and Willie Burton.
Penn State has the No. 13 seed for the Big Ten tournament and will play a first round game on Wednesday afternoon in Chicago against the No. 12 seed, either Nebraska or Minnesota. The Huskers had the last game on the conference’s regular season slate against Maryland on Sunday night, with a loss giving the Gophers the No. 11 seed and a game against Rutgers on Wednesday evening.
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