A win would have assured them of at least a .500 record coming out of the conference tourney, which in all likelihood would have resulted in an NIT bid.
Unfortunately for PSU, the Golden Gophers had something even more important on the line, and they played like it. Fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Minnesota blasted out to an early 23-3 lead and was never seriously threatened in winning, 81-63.
The Gophers improved to 19-12 overall and 8-10 in the conference. They are the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten tourney, which tips off Thursday in Indianapolis. And that is interesting because
Penn State now stands at 15-16 overall and 5-12 in the league. The Lions are the No. 10 seed in the tournament, and now have a rematch with Minnesota in Indy Thursday (6:30 p.m., ESPN2).
After Sunday's loss, Pat Chambers' squad must now beat the Gophers (who swept the season series) and then knock off No. 2 seed Wisconsin to assure itself of the .500 record needed to make the NIT.
For any chance of that happening, the Lions will have to bring it much stronger than they did Sunday. PSU had four turnovers in the first five minutes of the game. Yet it still trailed by only seven (10-3) when Tim Frazier made one of two free throws with 14:56 left in the opening half.
But the Gophers went on a 10-0 run over the next three minutes -- two more PSU turnovers fueled the spurt -- and the game was effectively over.
To their credit, the Lions did not simply roll over. Behind an attacking D.J. Newbill, they actually cut the lead to 55-46 with 8:37 to go in the game. But then Minnesota started playing like it cared again, and cruised to the easy win.
Newbill led Penn State with 24, including 15 in the second half. Frazier had 14, making up for a poor shooting night by hitting 10 of 12 free throws.
Senior Austin Hollins paced Minnesota with 14 points after he was honored in a pre-game Senior Day ceremony. Classmate Maverick Ahanmisi, who had scored two points in 17 previous Big Ten games this season, got the start and scored 13 in this one.
Newbill had nine field goals for the Lions (on 20 shots). The rest of the team combined for 10 field goals (on 27 shots) and nobody else had more than two buckets.
Penn State has never been the No. 10 seed at Big Tens.
No. 10 seeds are 10-15 all time in Big Tens. No. 7 seeds are 10-16 and have not won a game the last two years.
The Lions are 0-2 all-time vs. Minnesota at Big Tens, having been blown out in those games by an average margin of 22.5 points.
PSU is 9-16 all-time in the tournament. The Gophers are 11-14.