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Rapid Reaction: Penn State handles Northwestern 77-61

Defensive struggles and timely Nittany Lions offense doomed the Wildcats to their ninth consecutive defeat.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t an embarrassing blowout, like they suffered against Michigan on Wednesday. Nor was it a horrific collapse, like against Rutgers and Purdue. Instead, Saturday morning marked just another loss for Northwestern men’s basketball (6-18, 1-13 Big Ten), which was outclassed from start to finish by #13 Penn State (20-5, 10-4).

Lamar Stevens led the way with 23 points and seven rebounds for the Nittany Lions, who grabbed the lead five minutes in and never looked back. Penn State launched a whopping 31 threes on the day, connecting on 11 of them against porous Northwestern perimeter defense.

Pete Nance played his best game in more than a month, connecting on his first six shots off the bench to finish with 12 points and seven rebounds in a losing effort.

The game began well for Northwestern, with a Miller Kopp three and long two spurring a lead at the under-16. The Wildcats were executing well on offense, with Pat Spencer hitting a couple of shots and Nance quickly getting involved off the bench. But as the offensive well slowly dried up, the Nittany Lions began to enforce their will on the offensive glass.

NU’s interior defense had some first half moments, but Penn State pressed their advantage, dominating the offensive boards to the tune of an 8-3 edge and creating crucial transition opportunities when needed: despite just six first half Northwestern turnovers, the Nittany Lions created 13 points off of them.

On the whole, though, the story in the first half was the three-point arc. NU allowed a smorgasbord of open threes to PSU, who made seven of a whopping 21. On the other side, the Wildcats made just one of nine attempted triples. That helped create the 42-28 halftime lead that Penn State was able to enjoy.

Penn State opened up the second half sloppy, but never let things get too close. They stretched their lead to as many as 18, and though Northwestern made mini-runs to keep things respectable, the Nittany Lions responded every time, not allowing the Wildcats to cut the lead to single digits until there were less than five minutes remaining.

After a Nance jumper made it a seven-point game, Myles Dread drained a three as the shot clock expired to up the PSU lead back to 10, and that would be the killer. The Wildcats repeatedly turned the ball over in their remaining offensive opportunities, and Penn State went on a 13-0 run to squash any remaining NU hopes.

Northwestern shot 52 percent from the field in a second half that was a vast improvement from the first, with walk-on Tino Malnati even managing to accrue the final bucket. Ultimately, though, a 2-14 performance from beyond the arc crippled the Wildcats enough offensively that they never got back into the game.

Myles Dread added 16 points (including four threes) for the Nittany Lions, while Jamari Wheeler chipped in 11 points and six assists and Mike Watkins just missed a double-double with 11 and 9. Four Wildcats scored in double figures as well: Boo Buie finished with 12, Spencer had 11, and Kopp put up 10 in addition to Nance’s aforementioned contributions.

Despite just finishing a run of three games in a week, Northwestern won’t get much rest: next up, they travel to ninth-ranked Maryland for a Tuesday night clash that will be televised on BTN.