It would not take long for a first-time Big Ten basketball observer to tell you that tonight’s matchup between Northwestern and Penn State was a game between two of the league’s worst. The only thing more lethargic than the game itself was the half-full crowd at Welsh-Ryan. Midterms, right?
Penn State (8-14, 1-10 B1G) got its first Big Ten win, 59-52, in a game characterized by loose ball scrambles, missed shots, and scrums around the rim. The Nittany Lions shot 37.7 percent from the field and 61.5 percent from the free throw line, but held NU (12-10, 3-8) to only 22 second half points. Northwestern could not get anything going inside, as PSU’s Mike Watkins-Lamar Stevens frontcourt held the Wildcats to just 22 points in the paint. Stevens led the way for PSU with 18 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.
Northwestern’s offense was comically inept. The Wildcats went to Vic Law in isolation time and time again, but Law couldn’t find a stroke, shooting 3-of-17 from the field with six turnovers. Dererk Pardon led the Wildcats with 18 points.
Anthony Gaines started off the scoring for the Wildcats with a difficult transition finish and a tough transition layup in which he drove straight into the defender’s chest. He played well in spots for the rest of the game, but picked up his fourth foul early in the second half and fouled out late. As NU’s offense stagnated, the Wildcats missed Gaines’ ability to get to the rim.
The game looked like it might turn into a blowout early as Northwestern jumped out to a 10-2 lead. However, Penn State responded with a 10-2 run of its own to tie the game at 12.
From there, the first half was a back and forth affair that ended in a 32-30 Penn State lead. Gaines led the Wildcats with seven points, while Rasir Bolton lead the Nittany Lions with 10. One positive from the first half was the way Northwestern handled Lamar Stevens, Penn State’s leading scorer. Gaines drew the bulk of the matchup, but Vic Law also chipped in. Chris Collins sent double teams at Stevens to get the ball out of his hands in the post.
The Wildcats made a point to feed Dererk Pardon early in the second half. He scored the first two baskets of the second period, both coming off post-ups. The period begun with a scare after Vic Law limped off the floor holding his lower back. He returned a couple minutes later, but continued a string of poor performances. He couldn’t get into a rhythm as Stevens dominated the matchup for most of the night.
Northwestern fell into a rut offensively after Gaines had to exit following his fourth foul less than four minutes into the second half. The Wildcats leaned heavily on Law and Pardon for contested looks with little success, going scoreless for over five minutes of game time.
Law did, however, hit a timely three to pull the Wildcats within three with 8:35 left in the game. Miller Kopp followed it up with a three of his own after Lamar Stevens split a pair of free throws, cutting the Penn State lead to 47-45. Northwestern did not get any closer after that, though.
Gaines re-entered the game with 6:03 left, but did not score a point after returning. He fouled out at the 2:30 mark on a bone-headed play in which he tripped Rasir Bolton near half court.
Northwestern tried to force the ball to Pardon in the post down the stretch, but Penn State responded with double teams. Penn State big man Mike Watkins did a nice job walling up against Pardon in the post when they decided not to double. Things became bleak for the Northwestern offense with Pardon bottled up and Law’s inability to create.
If it wasn’t evident before, the Wildcats have some serious offensive soul-searching to do before they take on Iowa on Sunday.