Well, that wasn’t very much fun.
Penn State (12-5, 2-2 B1G) heaped more misery on Northwestern (10-7, 1-3 B1G) with a dominant victory. The Nittany Lions got a huge night from Lamar Stevens and controlled the game from start to finish. A flurry of three-pointers, including a couple banked shots, allowed Northwestern to hang around, but the Wildcats were unable to capitalize on Bryant McIntosh’s return to the court, falling to Penn State 78-63 Friday night in State College, Penn.
Lamar Stevens led the way for Penn State with a career-high 30 points on 14-of-19 shooting. Fellow big man Mike Watkins dominated inside with 18 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks as Penn State outscored Northwestern in the paint 48-16 in the paint.
McIntosh was solid in his return for Northwestern, finishing with 18 points and four assists, but he got no help at all from his teammates on the offensive end. No other Wildcat reached double figures. Scottie Lindsey struggled immensely from the field, finishing the game 3-of-17 with 4 turnovers (he’s shot a 7-for-31 in the last two games).
McIntosh nailed his first shot attempt, a three-pointer to tie the game at three. From there, the Nittany Lions ratcheted up their defensive intensity. Freshman Jamari Wheeler picked McIntosh’s pocket at half-court for an easy layup then drew a McIntosh charge to turn the Wildcats over on back to back possessions.
After Gavin Skelly was forced to the bench with two early fouls, Penn State big men Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins took advantage of a smaller Northwestern lineup. The two forwards combined for 12 early points as Penn State leaped out to a 17-8 advantage at the under-12 timeout.
Penn State had no trouble getting open shots. The Nittany Lions had a stretch where they made nine consecutive shots from the field to open a 28-15 lead. Stevens himself made his first six shots from the field, finishing the first half with 16 points. An old-fashioned three-point play from Julian Moore pushed the Penn State advantage to 31-15 and capped a 12-of-15 shooting performance from the home team to start the game. Northwestern, on the other hand, opened 6-of-19 from the field.
The Wildcats were able to remove the lid from the basket over the final eight minutes of the first half, but they couldn’t stop Penn State on the other end. Considering Penn State shot 71 percent from the field in the first half and dominated the paint, Northwestern was lucky the Nittany Lions only led 41-34 at the half. Penn State shot itself in the foot with 12 first-half turnovers, but dunk and layups abounded in the first half.
Northwestern took momentum into the half, putting together a solid defensive possession to force a shot clock violation. On the other end of the court, McIntosh fielded a blocked Falzon three and nailed a buzzer-beating bank shot to pull Northwestern within seven. The senior point guard led Northwestern with ten first-half points and three assists.
The second-half started with another dunk for Penn State, an alley-oop from Tony Carr to Stevens. Following the tough start to the half, Northwestern locked in defensively. Penn State only scored six points in the first six minutes of the second half. Back-to-back treys from McIntosh and Jordan Ash brought Northwestern to within three, at 47-44. That was the last moment of optimism for the Wildcats. Penn State quickly pushed their lead to nine and forced Chris Collins to call a timeout with 12:21 remaining.
A Josh Reaves put-back dunk prompted Collins try a new lineup, playing both centers on the roster at the same time to ostensibly lock down the paint. Northwestern, however, couldn’t put it together on the offensive end. The Wildcats nailed 11 threes to stick around, but shot 35 percent from inside the arc and only got to the line six times all night.
Two Penn State free throws from Tony Carr at the four-minute mark pushed the Penn State lead to 16. The Wildcats continues to hoist three-pointers as the game wound down. The game finished just as it started, as Penn State snagged three consecutive offensive rebounds to waste nearly a minute of game time before Watkins finally converted a layup.
It’s safe to say the glow from last year is officially over. With a five-day break before a home date with Minnesota, Northwestern will have plenty of time to assess the damage from a brutal start to conference play. Having its star point guard back from injury is a good start, but the Wildcats have to do a lot more in order to put together the all-around performances necessary for winning Big Ten basketball games.