With upsets galore rampaging the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern could not quite avoid one of its own.
The Wildcats put up a valiant effort, but an ice-cold shooting performance doomed them in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, as they fell 67-65 to Penn State in overtime.
It was attack by committee for the Nittany Lions, who were led by Seth Lundy with 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting and three triples, including the game-winner. Jalen Pickett dropped 15, with Andrew Funk and Kanye Clary also reaching double figures with 14 and 11 points, respectively.
For the ‘Cats, Boo Buie and Brooks Barnhizer led the scoring output with 16 and 15 points, respectively. Barnhizer also recorded 11 rebounds. Both had rough shooting days, putting up a combined 10-of-30 clip from the field, but were crucial for Northwestern down the stretch.
They weren’t the only ‘Cats with a tough time from the floor, as Chase Audige shot just 3-of-14 and Ty Berry was just 1-of-10, including 1-of-8 from three.
Following strong defensive possessions by both sides to start the game, Northwestern finally got on the board with an Audige fadeaway. When Buie drew a charge after several Nittany Lion attempts to even it up, he also left his mark on the other end, throwing an alley-oop to Matthew Nicholson.
The Northwestern D held strong early, keeping Penn State to an 0-of-6 start before Michael Henn splashed a deep three from center to cut the NU lead to 4-3. After Henn answered two Tydus Verhoeven free throws with a bucket of his own, several back-and-forth scoreless drives ensued with both defenses hounding each other’s offenses. Nearly nine minutes into the game, the score was tied at just six apiece.
At last, Northwestern broke its three-plus-minute scoring drought when Audige found Verhoeven for a post lay-in. Camren Wynter answered, but Barnhizer followed that up with a shot off the backboard to regain the lead. On the next possession, Penn State finally took the lead when Lundy converted an and-one layup.
Coming out of the timeout, Northwestern finally appeared to start clicking. Nicholson broke up a pass on the defensive end to force a turnover, then Buie showed off his hesitation skills to pump-fake a three and create space. He ended the drive with a scoop layup and an accompanying free throw, but Pickett did the same on the other side to answer.
After Buie left the game with his second foul, Robbie Beran got the crowd going with Northwestern’s first three of the game as “Let’s Go ‘Cats” chants rained down in the United Center. Beran helped force a turnover right after, which led to two free throws from Barnhizer that took an 18-14 lead.
As Penn State inched closer, Buie finally cashed his first triple of the game. However, with every punch came a counter-punch, and the Nittany Lions fittingly responded with threes by Lundy and Andrew Funk.
Clary slipped through NU’s defense to cap an 8-0 PSU run, but Buie found a wide-open Nick Martinelli for three to end the streak. After taking a charge and falling hard, Buie regained the lead for the Wildcats with a hook from the post. Heading into halftime, the ‘Cats led the back-and-forth affair, 26-25.
Buie led all scorers at the break with eight, but Northwestern struggled from the field. The ‘Cats shot just 28.1% overall and 23.1% from deep, a 3-of-13 clip.
Penn State came out of the half and immediately took the lead, as Nicholson fouled Funk on a reverse layup that became a three-point play. The Nittany Lions earned another attempt when Kebba Njie was fouled on a layup, but he wasn’t able to convert. He did, however, add a free throw on the next possession to extend PSU’s run to 6-0. After Audige missed a late shot-clock three, Martinelli got the rebound and put it right back up to finally get NU on the board in the second half.
As both teams went cold, free throws kept each side afloat. Funk hit five from the charity stripe, split by three combined from Barnhizer and Martinelli. Buie cut the deficit to single digits, but Northwestern’s seventh foul of the half put Pickett at the line with 14 minutes to go. After plucking a hard-fought steal on one end from Pickett, Buie splashed from deep, but Funk hit him with a taste of his own medicine to gain the three points right back.
Chris Collins opted to go with a rare lineup without Buie or Audige on the floor, but it started well as Berry threw a lob to Nicholson for the dunk. Clary responded with a pair of baskets to give Penn State the 45-38 lead — its largest of the night.
But Barnhizer, while running the point, created a spark with a three and reverse layup that brought the crowd back into it. With 9:10 to go, the Nittany Lions led 45-43, but the ‘Cats were nearing closer with the Barnhizer-Berry-Martinelli-Beran-Nicholson lineup.
Barnhizer proceeded to drive to tie it up, but a questionable charge call negated the bucket. On the other side, Beran swatted a layup from Wynter, but a foul was called. It mattered not, as he missed both, and Audige evened the score with a turnaround jumper near the free-throw line.
Wynter picked up the team’s seventh, and Beran regained the first ‘Cat lead of the half by making both at the charity stripe. However, Lundy took it right back with a ridiculous deep three that ended a 9-0 NU run. Pickett worked his way into the paint with Brad Underwood’s patented “booty ball” term, extending it to a 50-47 lead. Beran made two more from the line to cut it to one, but Clary reset the margin back to three.
As the clock ticked under four, Barnhizer made a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to one once again. At last, Ty Berry hit a three on his eighth attempt from deep of the game, and Pickett tied it up at 54 with a layup. With 1:33 to go, Buie bodied Pickett in a steal attempt, but Pickett miraculously missed both free throws.
With crunch time coming, Buie found Beran on the inside, who worked the post on Myles Dread to take the 56-54 lead with 60 seconds on the clock. Lundy then tied it up on a tough jumper, despite being tightly guarded by Beran.
With the clock winding down, Buie was set on taking the final shot. He worked to his left, pulling up with the floater, but it was just short. Penn State ran down the court in an attempt to win, but Funk’s three did not convert, and the game went to overtime tied at 56.
To start the extra period, Pickett made a step-back three. Wynter then picked up his fourth foul after alternating misses, but Nicholson hit neither shot. On the ensuing rebound, Audige fouled Pickett, who made a free throw to complete the three-point swing. Buie then earned two back in the paint to cut the PSU lead to two, and a shot-clock violation gave NU new life.
Berry took a handoff and drove to the paint, drawing Wynter’s fifth foul. He made both, tying it at 60-60 with 2:03 to go. After Beran fouled Clary and he made 1-of-2, Audige called his own number and made a pull-up jumper again to regain the lead. However, Lundy made yet another absurd deep three with the shot clock winding down, and Collins called timeout, down 64-62 with 36.7 seconds remaining.
Buie missed an open three, and Berry fouled Pickett to send him to the line with the shot clock turned off. Pickett nailed both to extend the lead to two scores. Barnhizer wasn’t going to let that be the dagger, though, and found space for a floater to cut the score to 66-64.
With Berry and Lundy tied up on the ensuing inbound, Micah Shrewsberry called a PSU timeout to avoid the jump ball. Lundy eventually made 1-of-2 from the line, and Buie was fouled before he could get a shot off. Buie made his first and his second was tipped out to Audige, but the Wildcat guard could not make the buzzer-beater, and the Wildcats fell in overtime, 67-65.
Northwestern will now wait for Selection Sunday to see where it will be seeded in what will almost certainly be its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017. The ‘Cats will either play on Thursday or Friday at a time and place yet to be determined.