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Men's basketball: Gophers beat Penn State

USA TODAY Sports Penn State guard D.J. Newbill fouls Minnesota guard Andre Hollins in the second half Sunday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

By Marcus R. Fuller

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers were fortunate to play Penn State on Senior Day because they desperately needed a win to stay in contention for the NCAA tournament.

Then again, playing Penn State doesn’t do much to boost your resume.

And Minnesota will play the Nittany Lions again after Sunday’s 81-63 regular-season ending victory at Williams Arena.

Juniors Mo Walker and DeAndre Mathieu had 16 points apiece to lead the Gophers (19-12, 8-10 Big Ten), who shot 56 percent from the field.

They earned a No. 7 seed and play 10th-seeded Penn State (15-16, 7-11) for the third time this season Thursday in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.

It’s supposed to be hard to beat a team three times. That shouldn’t worry Minnesota as much as whether or not it will need at least two conference tournament victories to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Entering Sunday, the Gophers had a No. 49 RPI and No. 3 strength of schedule.

First-year coach Richard Pitino said Saturday that his team didn’t deserve to be on the bubble at that point in time. But Pitino thought the Gophers’ schedule strength was its biggest selling point to the NCAA tournament selection committee.

The numbers have been kind to Minnesota schedule-wise. Playing in the Big Ten obviously helps.

But it also made a difference that Syracuse, Arkansas, Florida State and Richmond were on the nonconference schedule. The Gophers finished 2-2 against those teams — with their best win coming on the road against the Spiders.

Playing quality opponents put the Gophers in a position to possibly play itself into the NCAA tournament. But not beating enough strong opponents before Selection Sunday also might work against them.

Penn State has the third-worst RPI in the Big Ten at No. 101, but that doesn’t mean the Nittany Lions are a bad team. They swept Ohio State this season but weren’t nearly as competitive Sunday.

The Gophers never really got tested after jumping out to a 23-3 lead early in the first half.

Austin Hollins had 11 of his 14 points in the first half to help Minnesota take a 38-24 halftime lead. Hollins was honored on Senior Day before the game with Maverick Ahanmisi, Oto Osenieks and Malik Smith.

Penn State trailed by as much as 25 points in the second half before using an 17-1 run to cut it to 55-46 with two free throws from Brandon Taylor with 8:37 left.

Austin Hollins ended up sitting after picking up his fourth foul, but his roommates Andre Hollins and Ahanmisi made sure the Gophers finished strong.

Andre Hollins, who played only seven minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half, including nine of Minnesota’s 11 points during one stretch.

Ahanmisi, a rarely used senior guard, hit two three-pointers for Minnesota’s last two baskets of the game.

He had only scored two points in the Big Ten entering the game, but Ahanmisi tied a career high with 13 points Sunday.

D.J. Newbill, who was held scoreless in a 68-65 loss to Minnesota in State College on Jan. 8. led Penn State with 24 points on 9-for-20 shooting.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.