EVANSTON — When it comes down to it, teams must make shots to win games. If you can't score, you can't win. In front of a huge crowd on Saturday night against Penn State, Northwestern shot 3-of-26 from three (including an 0-for-12 effort in the first half) and just 39 percent overall in an ugly, disappointing 71-62 loss to the Nittany Lions that was not as close as the final score indicates.
The Wildcats couldn't get anything going offensively, even with the return of Alex Olah, who had missed the previous six games with a stress fracture in his foot. In the first half, Northwestern jumped out to an early 8-7 lead thanks to a couple of floaters from Tre Demps. But the Wildcats went cold after that, and Penn State used a 13-2 run to double up Northwestern just over halfway through the opening half.
Despite the shooting woes and the fact that Penn State was 6-of-13 from deep, Northwestern found itself down just seven at halftime, as Dererk Pardon came in and provided some energy on the offensive boards. Both he and Bryant McIntosh led the way with six at the break while Brandon Taylor had 11 for the visitors.
In the second half, it was more of the same. The Wildcats didn't hit their first three-pointer of the game until the 10:21 mark of the second half, but by then the Nittany Lions had already extended their lead to as large as 17. The Wildcats were outscored 18-8 over that first 9:39 of the second half.
The outside shooting was absolutely awful, and the defense sagged as well, perhaps as the shooting woes wore on the players. The Wildcats got out-rebounded badly in the second half (and 42-34 overall) as the bricks continued, and Penn State began to get easy baskets on the interior against a Northwestern defense loosened by the Nittany Lions' three-point shooting.
- The outside shooting was just atrocious, but it seemed to hurt the Wildcats on the other end, too. Players lost cutters, forgot to box out, and overall didn't seem completely locked in on some possessions during the latter stages of the game.
- Give major credit to Penn State for taking away Bryant McIntosh's best weapon: the pick-and-roll. Pat Chambers clearly studied the Wisconsin tape very thoroughly, as the Penn State big men stepped out effectively but did not necessarily switch on the screen. What they did do, though, was allow enough time for the guard to recover. Their defensive rotations were, for the most, part solid. McIntosh was limited to 12 points. He still managed to pick up 10 assists. A lot of those points and assists were garnered with the game basically out of reach, though. He absolutely needs some help.
- Alex Olah was back but clearly not 100 percent — and no one expected him to be. The big man played limited minutes, and his first three shots were all ugly, awkward misses. With Pardon bringing energy and Joey van Zegeren a more athletic option against Penn State's physically-impressive bigs, the Romanian big man wasn't needed. The Wildcats will need him to get acquainted quickly, though, with a tough stretch coming up.
- Aaron Falzon's quick trigger can be a double-edged sword. Collins has clearly given him the green light, but he shot 1 of 9 from deep tonight, forced some shots early in the shot clock and struggled overall. He also missed two consecutive free throws late.
- Northwestern doesn't have to shoot it well to win, but it absolutely cannot shoot it this poorly this many times to win. No team can really overcome this type of three-point incompetence. The Wildcats also failed to attack the basket consistently, something they did when shots weren't falling against Wisconsin.
- The Wildcats shot just 7 of 15 from the free throw line. They've struggled there this year.
- It was a fantastic turnout from the Welsh-Ryan crowd tonight. Unfortunately, the team came nowhere near the performance that warrants similar crowds in the future, and is now 1-3 at home in Big Ten play.
- Overall, this is a very, very bad loss for Northwestern. Penn State is by no means a basketball powerhouse. Of course, it's difficult to beat anyone when you shoot that poorly, but it doesn't matter how it happened. This'll look really ugly on the résumé.