For many Northwestern basketball players who spent four years sweating and bleeding inside Welsh-Ryan Arena for the purple and white, Wednesday night was their swan song inside a sold-out arena clattered in purple. However, there was no Hollywood ending.
The Wildcats (20-10, 11-8 B1G) fell in an overtime heartbreaker to the Penn State Nittany Lions (18-12, 9-10 B1G) 68-65.
The ‘Cats were led by Boo Buie and Brooks Barnhizer. The pair combined for 39 points and 11 assists. Ty Berry added ten points and four rebounds for NU. Camren Wynter carried the load for the Nittany Lions, scoring 24 points on 9-of-15 from the field, while Andrew Funk added 17 on four threes.
After forcing an errant pass that found its way right to Buie, the senior dashed up the court and somehow flicked it out to a wide-open Audige for a three that gave the Wildcats the first points of the game. Ty Berry's shooting woes continued as he missed two open threes to start the game, but he drilled a contested triple to put NU ahead 8-5. Buie then drained his signature floater from the post, expanding the ‘Wildcats' lead to 10-5 at the first media timeout.
Out of the break, the Wildside effect showed up in full force. After Buie was called for a blocking foul, Michael Henn missed both free throws as Welsh-Ryan erupted into a chant of “chicken sandwich.” On Penn State’s next trip down the floor, Audige, a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year semifinalist, picked it away and found Tydus Verhoeven in transition. Verhoeven was fouled hard from behind while going up for a slam and sank a pair from the charity stripe to enlarge NU’s lead to double Penn State’s at 14-7 at the under-12 media timeout.
Northwestern’s swarming defense forced a turnover instantly out of the break, as the Nittany Lions did not get the ball across mid-court in 10 seconds. On the offensive end, the ball swung around to a wide-open Brooks Barnhizer for an easy triple. Penn State turned the ball over three possessions in a row, but the Wildcats did not capitalize to push their lead past 10. Northwestern’s offense went ice cold through the media timeout, not scoring for over three minutes, but the Nittany Lions had not found the bottom of the net for nearly four and a half minutes, holding the score at 17-7 with eight minutes left in the half.
Penn State broke its drought out of the break, draining a three from the wing as the Wildcats could not throw a rock into the ocean until Berry hit a three, ending a five-minute cold spell. Robbie Beran followed it up with a long ball from beyond the arc for his first points of the game. Audige, on a tight shot contest, bumped into Andrew Funk and gave him three shots from the stripe, and he converted them all. The Nittany Lions’ good stretch continued, extending to an 8-0 run to cut the ‘Cats’ lead to 23-22 and force a Chris Collins timeout to stop the bleeding.
With under two to play, Buie flipped it to an open Verhoeven for an easy layup, and Beran buried a corner triple to give NU a two-possession lead. Barnhizer sent a shot by Camryn Winter back, but a boneheaded pass by Audige turned it right back over to Penn State. The Nittany Lions could not connect on a last-second heave, and Northwestern headed into the locker room leading 28-24.
The ‘Cats shot 10-for-31 from the field in the first half, but Penn State was no better at 8-for-21. NU did force nine turnovers in the first half but could only manage eight points off the Nittany Lion mistakes. Buie and Audige combined for nine points on 4-of-10 from the field.
Out of the half, Wynter drilled a three and hit a from the midrange to give the Nittany Lions their first lead since 5-3, but Buie snatched the lead right back with a triple to put NU back up two. Berry picked up two quick fouls and was forced to sit with three, much to the chagrin of the Northwestern faithful. Then, the Nittany Lions broke the ‘Cats’ press and found Funk for a wide-open three, and Lundy added another trey on back-to-back possessions to retake a 37-33 lead and make Collins burn another timeout with 16 minutes left in the game.
After two minutes of empty possessions, Barnhizer nailed a spinning fadeaway jumper and Buie followed it up with a tough floater to bring the score even and wake up Wildside. On Penn State’s next possession, Buie drew a charge, and Welsh-Ryan erupted as the ref pointed the other way. As if the senior guard was not doing enough, he connected on a long three to put the Wildcats back on top 40-37. Barnhizer and Myles Dread traded treys with 10 minutes to play, and the Wildcats clung on to a 43-42 lead.
Out of the timeout, Buie threw up a prayer off the glass as the shot clock expired, which inexplicably fell. On the other end of the floor, a questionable foul call on Verhoeven sent Jalen Pickett to the line for three foul shots; however, ball did not lie as Pickett went 1-for-3 from the stripe. Barnhizer, feeling the hot hand, buried another three to expand NU’s lead to five, but Penn State cut the advantage to 48-45 at the under-eight.
Barnhizer was scalding hot from deep, hitting his fourth three of the game out of the timeout; however, the Nittany Lions refused to go away and answered with a trey of their own. It did not matter, as No. 13 saw a mega rim as he hit another triple. Buie flipped a baby hook in to push the ‘Cats’ lead to six, but Funk connected from way beyond the arc to make it a one-possession game at 58-55 with less than four minutes to play.
The Nittany Lions had four chances out of the final media timeout but could not connect on anything; however, on their ensuing possession, Wynter got a corner three to fall and tie the game up at 58-58. Audige, who had been quiet all night, connected on a free throw to put NU back up one, but Funk nailed his third trey of the game to make it 61-59 Penn State. Berry got a goaltending call to tie it up at 61-61, and the Wildcats forced an errant shot by Wynter as the shot clock expired. Collins called a timeout with 39.2 seconds left in the game.
Buie corralled the inbound, but a three from Berry rimmed out. Penn State ran the clock down and called a timeout with 8.1 seconds left. Berry committed his fourth foul, on the floor, with 3.3 seconds left. As time expired, Funk had a wide open three, but as the ball went in and out, the collective sigh from the Welsh-Ryan crowd was palpable as the game headed to overtime.
Penn State controlled the tip, but the Wildcats held them empty on the opening possession. Barnhizer, who arguably played his best game of the year, worked his way to the free throw line and connected on a pair to break the tie. While Wynter connected on a three to regain the lead, but Buie snatched it right back with a floater to give Northwestern a 65-64 advantage.
After a Penn State free throw tied the game with 90 seconds left, Buie could not finish over three defenders. On the other end, Verhoeven had a massive rejection on Wynter, and Barnhizer made an incredible play, throwing the ball off Wynter as he fell to the ground out of bounds. Subsequently, Barnhizer tried to finish off the glass, but the ball bounced off the rim and went back to the Nittany Lions.
Buie forced a bad shot from Pickett, but Evan Mahaffey grabbed the offensive rebound and found a wide-open Wynter for a corner three to put the Nittany Lions up 68-65. Buie’s half-court bounced off the backboard as the ‘Cats dropped their third in a row.
Northwestern closes out its regular season Sunday at Rutgers. Tip is at 6:30 p.m. CT.