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Northwestern falters down the stretch, loses to Penn State 65-57

A difficult season for the Wildcats ended in a tough loss.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Penn State vs Northwestern Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK CITY — Northwestern has been no stranger to poor offensive performances this season. Their latest drought, however, couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Despite a valiant effort from its frontcourt and a strong interior performance on defense, Northwestern (15-17) fell to Penn State (20-12) 65-57 at Madison Square Garden in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Wildcats led 54-52 with 4:36 remaining, but collapsed offensively down the stretch after Scottie Lindsey fouled out. Northwestern wouldn’t make another field goal until Barret Benson made an inconsequential layup with ten second remaining

Tony Carr led all scorers with 25 points and Penn State nailed 13-of-29 three-pointers to make up for a dismal 37 percent shooting from the floor. Seniors Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey, in their last game for the Wildcats, combined for 19 points on 25 shots. Barret Benson and Dererk Pardon were both solid inside, combining for 23 points and 17 rebounds

Chris Collins inserted Dererk Pardon and Barrett Benson into the starting lineup together, perhaps to overload a Penn State frontcourt missing Mike Watkins and his 8.9 rebounds per game. The move appeared to work in the paint early on, with Pardon and Benson grabbing offensive rebounds that led to second chance points for the Wildcats. However, Tony Carr and the Penn State offense were able to stretch Northwestern’s matchup zone, nailing three triples (two from Carr) in the game’s first seven-plus minutes.

McIntosh headed to the bench for the first time with 13:29 remaining in the first half and the Wildcats trailing by two. Northwestern’s depth at guard was exposed, as Isiah Brown turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, leading to two baskets for the Nittany Lions.

Both McIntosh and Lindsey started the game slowly at the offensive end, combining to miss five of their first six attempts. Lindsey got it going as the first half progressed, nailing a pull-up jumper and then a transition three to tie the game at 19 with 7:55 remaining.

Outside of Carr, the Nittany Lions struggled to get anything going against Northwestern. The Benson-Pardon pairing inside was exemplary in the first half— Benson had a couple huge blocks inside and Penn State had only six points in the paint in the first half. The Wildcats held Penn State scoreless for over four minutes midway through the first half, opening up a 25-19 lead in the meantime.

A flagrant foul by Scottie Lindsey culled the Wildcat momentum for a second, but Northwestern got a dunk from Benson to take a 27-20 lead into the under-four timeout.

Shep Garner broke a 1-for-13 stretch with a deep three to beat the shot clock before Josh Reaves ripped McIntosh and slammed home a breakaway dunk, forcing Collins to take a timeout with the Wildcat lead cut to two. The Wildcats didn’t make a field goal over the final 2:21 of the first half and headed to the locker room tied with Penn State at 30.

Benson and Pardon were both terrific in the first half. In his first start since Dec. 30, 2016, Benson didn’t miss a field goal and finished the first 20 minutes just one point shy of his season-high total. Both big men were able to stay out of foul trouble, which was huge for a Wildcat squad with eight scholarship players suited up.

Carr showed a Madison Square Garden audience why he was named First Team All-Big Ten, keeping the Nittany Lions afloat with four three-pointers and a couple tough jumpers in the first half.

Penn State wasn’t able to find much success inside, but they continued to shoot the ball well against Northwestern’s zone. The Nittany Lions hit three of their first four attempts from deep, opening the second half on a 9-2 run. On the other end of the ball, Penn State guarded Lindsey and Gaines tightly, and the Wildcats struggled to get the ball to their playmakers as the shot clock ticked down.

Northwestern responded, however. Pardon and Anthony Gaines, two inconsistent jump shooters, ventured out of the paint to knock down a couple of shots and the Wildcats trailed 39-37 with 14:54 to go. The Wildcats and Nittany Lions traded baskets over the next few minutes as the pace of play slowed up. Penn State was consistently under 40 percent from the field, but the difference in three-pointers and turnovers kept the Nittany Lions around.

The game got sloppy midway through the second half, as both teams taking scoring droughts of over two minutes into the under-eight timeout with the score tied at 48. Aaron Falzon got the lid off the rim for Northwestern with a tough runner in the lane, only his ninth converted two-point attempt this season.

Both teams looked uncomfortable offensively, more likely to probe the perimeter and settle for a jumper than penetrate and look to collapse the defense. Lindsey picked up his fourth foul with 4:56 remaining and headed to the bench. The Wildcats have struggled when their leading scorer takes a seat, but McIntosh nailed a tough fallaway jumper to give Northwestern a 54-52 lead. The Wildcats keyed in on Tony Carr early in the second half, but the sophomore knocked in his fifth three of the game with 4:09 remaining to give the Nittany Lions a one-point lead.

Moments later, Scottie Lindsey got called for a charge and had to watch the remaining 3:15 from the bench. It all came crumbling down for Northwestern.

A Josh Reaves three-pointer on the next possession, Penn State’s twelfth of the game, gave the Nittany Lions a 58-54 advantage. On the next trip down the court, Carr stepped into a three-pointer as the shot clock wound down to complete a 9-0 run for Penn State. Without Lindsey on the floor, the Wildcats lacked spacing and McIntosh forced up some tough shots that wouldn’t fall.

On the biggest basketball stage in the world, Northwestern’s season ended quietly and emotionally. When Gavin Skelly, Scottie Lindsey, and Bryant McIntosh stepped off the floor for the final time as Wildcats, an era of Northwestern basketball ended. What’s to come is yet to be seen, but undoubtedly, the Wildcats will remember how this brief trip to New York ended.