Northwestern began its 2016-2017 Big Ten campaign with a bang.
The Wildcats (12-2, 1-0) dominated Penn State (8-6, 0-1) from the get-go, securing another top-100 win by shooting the lights out in Happy Valley en route 87-77 win. The Northwestern lead hovered around 15 points for most of the game, so a late run from Penn State made the final score closer than the game was.
It was a career day for Scottie Lindsey, who poured in 31 points on 9-of-14 shooting and paced the Northwestern offense all game.
The visitors began the game on fire, hitting their first six shots. Bryant McIntosh opened the scoring with a long two before Law hit a three on the next possession. Penn State also started hot, hitting its first three shots, but cooled off quickly, missing its next seven.
Lindsey and McIntosh turned Nittany Lion missed shots into transition layups to extend the Wildcat lead to 15-9 before Penn State called a timeout with 15:42 to play in the first half.
Northwestern continued its hot shooting after the timeout. After Lindsey hit a three, Barrett Benson got a traditional three-point play on an offensive rebound to cap an 18-2 run, including 10 straight points after the Penn State timeout. The Wildcats led 25-9 at the under-12 timeout.
The Wildcat offense then cooled off a bit, but Benson kept several possessions alive by crashing the offensive glass. Sanjay Lumpkin also got into the mix with a ball fake and scoop layup.
It seemed as if McIntosh, Law and Lindsey couldn’t miss in the first half. The trio started 11-of-14 from the field, and many of those shots were jumpers.
The one area that gave the Wildcats trouble early on was the defensive glass. Without Dererk Pardon patrolling the paint, Nittany Lion forward Mike Watkins corralled several offensive rebounds, including an emphatic put-back dunk.
Northwestern went into the under-eight timeout up 32-16.
Lindsey drained a three on the next possession, which was his fifth straight make to start the game. The Wildcats then went cold on the next several possessions, before Gavin Skelly nailed a wide-open three to push the lead to 38-23.
While the Nittany Lions struggled from the floor in the first half, they did a good job getting to the free throw line, going 10-of-15 from the foul line in the first half.
The ball kept moving for NU, and the Wildcats continued to find easy looks all over the floor. Skelly finished a Law dish with a dunk before Lindsey took a pass along the baseline for a big-time slam plus the foul.
Lindsey hit the free throw after the under-four timeout, which extended the lead to 43-25.
Defensively, the Wildcats held their ground and forced the Nittany Lions to take jump shots, and those shots weren’t falling throughout the first half.
Penn State continued to attack the rim, though, finding its best offense at the charity stripe.
Northwestern called timeout with just over a minute to play, and Isiah Brown hit a three on a skip pass immediately after. Nate Taphorn hit a corner three a few steps away from where Brown had just drained one, before Penn State made a layup with two seconds to play in the half. Penn State’s leading scorer, junior Shep Garner, scored just one point in the first half, well below his season average of 14.6 points per game.
Heading into halftime, Northwestern led 51-32.
The Wildcats shot 56 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range in the first half, while the Nittany Lions shot 30 percent from the field and 20 percent from three. The Wildcats assisted on 11 of their 19 made field goals; five of those assists came from Bryant McIntosh.
Scottie Lindsey led the way with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the opening half, and Vic Law added nine points, five rebounds and three assists heading into the break.
Coming out of halftime, Barrett Benson opened the scoring with a mid-range jumpshot, and came up with a steal on the next possession.
Unsurprisingly, Penn State came out aggressively at the beginning of the second half. The Nittany Lions drew a third foul on Lindsey and a fourth foul on Lumpkin, forcing both to sit early in the second half.
Both teams came out cold in the second half, and the Wildcats led 52-36 at under-16 timeout. At that point, Northwestern had two points and four fouls in the half.
Northwestern’s shooting woes continued out of the timeout, and Gavin Skelly was unable to convert on opportunities around the rim on back-to-back possession.
After starting the second half 1-of-7 from the field, including a scoring draught of over five minutes, Lindsey returned to the game and made two free throws to make the score 55-40, warding off any possible comeback from the visitors.
Penn State scored on a put-back layup on the other end to cut the lead to 13, but Lindsey hit a three after a Vic Law offensive rebound and kick-out to end a streak of nine straight missed field goals for Northwestern.
Pardon’s absence was abundantly clear early in the second half, as NU struggled to defend the paint a pull down defensive rebounds.
Despite Northwestern’s struggles early in the second half, Penn State couldn’t cut the lead to less than 10 points. McIntosh and Skelly hit threes on back-to-back trips to extend the lead to 66-45, and another McIntosh jumper forced Penn State head coach Pat Chambers to call timeout with 9:35 to play.
Both teams traded buckets as the second half wore down, but Penn State couldn’t get enough consecutive stops to cut the lead to single digits until very late in the contest. Northwestern was able to run clock and extend possessions with offensive rebounds, so there was no real game-pressure on the Wildcats the last eight or so minutes, even with some sloppy play late. The Nittany Lions went on a 14-2 run to cut the game to as close as nine with under 20 seconds left, but it was never closer than that.
Lindsey continued his scorching hot afternoon with a three-pointer with just over six minutes to play. The basket gave him 28 points, a new career-high, which he later increased to 31.
The Wildcats went 11-of-26 from beyond-the-arc, and shot 44 percent from the floor in the win.
- Scottie Lindsey has turned into a dynamic scorer, and this was his finest performance to date. He entered the game leading the team with 14.9 points per game, and exploded against the Nittany Lions. Northwestern looked like a completely different team when he went to the bench with three could early in the second half. His improvement from his sophomore to junior seasons is remarkable. He is playing at an all-Big Ten level.
- Northwestern is a dangerous team when outside shots are falling. In the first half, the Wildcats throughly dominated and got any shot they wanted. But, when the shots aren’t falling, like early in the second half, Northwestern struggles to score, as was evident in the Wildcats five-plus minute scoring drought.
- Dererk Pardon’s health might be the key to Northwestern’s postseason chances. If he can’t come back soon, the Wildcats are going to have trouble in the paint against the better teams in the Big Ten. They might have trouble even with Pardon, but he would give them a major boost.
- Vic Law lived up to the “jack-of-all-trades” billing Chris Collins gave him before the season, finishing with 12 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. Northwestern will need him to stay aggressive as Big Ten play unfolds.