Northwestern came into a very winnable game with Penn State Thursday needing to win one of its last two games to avoid finishing last in the Big Ten. Now it all comes down to Purdue on Sunday. The final score Thursday, 59-32, tells you all you need to know, but here’s a quick recap:
First Half -- That was quite simply the worst first half of basketball we’ve seen Northwestern – or maybe for that matter, anybody – play all season. At halftime, it wasn’t even possible to take one positive from the first half.
Northwestern trailed 32-15 at the break, it’s biggest halftime deficit since the first game of the Big Ten play. But that was against Wisconsin… this was Penn State. 14-and-15 Penn State.
And this, the first half, was truly horrid. It was pathetic. There are two ways you can come out on senior night. You can come out with energy, fire and passion; or your nerves can get the best of you, and the emotion can have a negative effect. Northwestern did neither. There was no emotion. A sparse crowd didn’t help, but for a team whose intensity has carried it through significant portions of the Big Ten schedule, the effort was embarrassingly ordinary.
And when a team without talent plays without effort, the result is periods like Thursday’s first 20 minutes. Northwestern scored .538 points per possession before the break. To put that in perspective, Division I’s worst offense scores .866 PPP. Meanwhile, Northwestern gave up 1.15 PPP to Penn State.
Penn State was in and out of a zone defense all half, and maybe it confused the Wildcats, maybe it didn’t. But regardless, the offense was stagnant. More than half of NU's first half shots were 3-pointers, and they only made two of the 14.
Collins talked Tuesday about how on senior night, younger players need to carry the team through the emotion of the moment. But when the moment came, they did anything but that.
Second Half – Coming out of the locker room, it seemed like a situation where Northwestern would come out motivated and make a run at an average Penn State team. But as it turned out, the second half was no better than the first. In fact, not much changed at all. Northwestern didn’t even crack .6 PPP for the game.
If there was a bright spot, it was Alex Olah, who finished with 14 points. But with the score what it was, many of those points seemed irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
One surprising aspect of the blowout was that Penn State’s sustained domination wasn’t just a product of its two star guards, D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier. It was a comprehensive beating. Brandon Taylor chipped in with 11, John Johnson had 8, Jordan Dickerson and Ross Travis each had 6, and Northwestern was outplayed at every spot on the floor.
Crawford’s Senior Night – Watching the Wildcats fall flat like they did, you couldn’t help but think that Drew Crawford, a player who has meant so much to this program, deserved a better send-off.
Crawford himself played a poor game, but it was more about the whole aura of the night. There was nothing sentimental, nothing nostalgic, nothing especially cool about the atmosphere. There was just disappointment.
There was a nice moment at the end of the game when Collins removed Crawford from the game, and not only did the whole bench stand to applaud and greet him with hugs, but the crowd and the whole Penn State bench rose as well to honor Crawford. However, there was a sense that the magnitude of the reception wasn’t what it should have been.
Collins said during a radio interview after the game that he told Crawford to hold his head high, and given the ups and downs of his career, Crawford will undoubtedly be able to do so. But his final steps off of the Welsh-Ryan floor were more anti-climactic than anything.
And that’s really not the way it should have been.