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Marcus R. Fuller / St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published January 08 2014

Gophers best Nittany Lions

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Richard Pitino was coaching in his first Big Ten road game Wednesday against Penn State, so he didn’t know what to expect.

Neither did Gophers starting point guard DeAndre Mathieu, who was playing in his first Big Ten road game.

The inexperience showed when Mathieu combined with fellow newcomer Malik Smith to shoot 0-for-11 from the field in the first half.

Pitino called out Mathieu at halftime because he knew his junior floor leader could respond to criticism. The pep talk worked, as Mathieu scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half in a 68-65 victory over the Nittany Lions at Bryce Jordan Center.

Smith, who scored all of his points by going 6-for-6 from the foul line in the second half, made four straight free throws in the final 24.9 seconds to help Pitino’s team escape what would have been another damaging loss after dropping the Big Ten opener against Michigan.

Minnesota (13-3, 2-1) now has momentum with two straight wins going into a tough four-game stretch against the top teams in the Big Ten, starting Saturday at Michigan State.

“Coach got into me at halftime,” Mathieu said. “He said I wasn’t playing hard enough, and my body language was not what he wanted it to be. So I had to change my attitude and play harder in the second half.”

Mathieu, who was losing the point guard battle to Penn State’s Tim Frazier for most of the game, was aggressive penetrating to the basket in the first half. But the 5-foot-9 junior college transfer wasn’t getting any foul calls.

Frazier, who had 13 of his 20 points and five of his eight assists in the first half, was taking control of the game.

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