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Nov. 13, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Penn State men's soccer team's magical run at the Big Ten Tournament came to a bitter end on Sunday afternoon, as the Nittany Lions fell to conference regular season champion and No. 1 seed Northwestern (11-4-5), 2-1, in the 2011 championship game in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Penn State (9-9-4) already made history by becoming the first No. 7 seed in the 21-year history of the Big Ten Tournament to advance to the title game. After going 0-6 in conference play during the regular season, the Nittany Lions put together dominating efforts in wins over No. 2 seed Ohio State (2-0) and No. 3 seed Wisconsin (1-0) to earn their way to the final.
Junior Minh Vu (Tucson, Ariz.) accounted for Penn State's score, netting his fourth of the season. Junior Hasani Sinclair (Coral Gables, Fla.) was credited with an assist on the play, his second of the year. The Nittany Lions, which boasts the Big Ten's top defense, allowed two goals in a game for the first time since October 1, a 2-1 home loss to Michigan.
Vu was named Offensive Player of the Tournament following the game for scoring two goals, including the game winner over Wisconsin on Friday. Senior defender Matt Smallwood (Cochranville, Pa.) was also named to the all-tournament team. The 2011 team captain netted the game winner versus Ohio State and played a key role in securing shutouts over the Buckeyes and Badgers.
Both teams started the game slowly with neither team generating any scoring chances but following the television timeout with 21:23 remaining in the first half, the pace picked up significantly on both ends.
Penn State began to mount offensive push right away with junior Jacob Barron (La Mirada, Calif.) earning the first opportunity, striking a shot wide of goal off a pass from sophomore Jordan Tyler (Rochester, Mich.).
For the second consecutive game, the 29th minute proved to be fruitful for Penn State and it was Vu who took center stage. Sinclair triggered the scoring play, slotting a pass from the midfield wide to Vu who was left wide open near the top of the box. Vu set his feet and fired a low-lining shot that froze Northwestern goalkeeper Tyler Miller, beating him to his left.
Early in the second half, Penn State dodged a bullet when Northwestern's Peter O'Neill served a pass into the box that glanced off the head of Reed Losee towards goal. Nittany Lion goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton (Snellville, Ga.) could not control it and Oliver Kupe tapped it in net, but was he called offsides.
In the 65th minute, the game turned on a split second decision. With the ball at the top of the box, Kupe was sandwiched between two Nittany Lions, soliciting a foul. Trailing the play, the referee first looked to award Northwestern a free kick but then changed his ruling to a penalty kick. O'Neill took it, burying it in net low and to his right, tying the game at 1-1.
Undaunted by the tough call, Penn State had an excellent chance to retake the lead in the 70th minute but could not convert. After Smallwood sent a corner kick into the box, Miller came off his line and took out Jordan Tyler with a hard charge. The ball bounced to junior John Gallagher (Pine Bush, N.Y.) but his shot from 20 yards out on an open net lifted high above the crossbar.
Kupe scored the game winner just over three minutes later on a counterattack, shooting high above a diving Wolverton close-up from the far wing.
Penn State pressured to gain the equalizer and earned a final prime scoring opportunity in the 85th minute. After bouncing around in the box, the ball came to sophomore Grant Warming (Omaha, Neb.) straightaway from 22-yards out. His left-footed blast sent the NU keeper diving to the ground but Miller was able to make the save.
Overall, Penn State is 28-15-4 in Big Ten Tournament play, standing as just one of two conference teams to own a winning record in the annual postseason event. Vying for the title for the 12th time in the 21-year history of the tournament, Penn State possesses a 3-8-1 record in championship games.