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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern comes back, beats Penn State 76-72

A true tale of two halves.

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Whew, that was a close one.

For the second time in three days, the ‘Cats held the line, albeit in a much closer game. Northwestern (12-3, 3-1 B1G) outlasted Penn State (8-8, 2-3 B1G), 76-72, in a game that truly tested the perseverance of this ‘Cats team.

It was a collective effort for the ‘Cats. Brooks Barnhizer led the way with 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting, while Boo Buie and Ty Berry also registered double-digit figures.

For the Nittany Lions, Kanye Clary led with 25 points on 6-of-10 shooting, along with 10 free throws. Qudus Wahab also reached double digits, scoring 13. Ace Baldwin Jr. had 8 steals, contributing to nearly half of Northwestern’s season-high 18 turnovers.

Northwestern turned the ball over 16 times, but a prolific offensive effort in the second half was just enough to give them the edge. Penn State’s failure to execute from three cost it tons of opportunities to pull ahead and maintain its lead throughout the second half.

It was a sloppy start to the game, as both teams turned the ball over a combined five times in the first four minutes. Penn State came out firing quickly with three buckets in the first 90 seconds, as Puff Johnson, Kanye Clary and Qudus Wahab each recorded a score for the Nittany Lions. Buie finally registered points on the board for the ‘Cats after PSU was called for a goaltending. He later captured a turnover off a Penn State airball, leading to a Ty Berry three-pointer. PSU answered with a four-point run of its own, including a steal and score by Ace Baldwin Jr. Buie then hit one from deep, giving the Nittany Lions a 10-8 lead at the under-16 media timeout.

D’Marco Dunn arrived off the bench with a bang, hitting a three to extend Penn State’s lead. Two buckets — a floater and a hook shot — from Nick Martinelli brought the lead down to one. A slam by Nick Kern Jr, which proceeded another NU turnover, put PSU up 17-14.

Berry forced a steal that he deflected out of bounds, with Northwestern keeping possession but coming out empty-handed. Both teams proceeded to turn over the ball, a struggle that persisted throughout the first half. Luke Hunger’s return from the bench came with a nice spin move to get to the basket, but he was immediately sized up by Wahab to give the Nittany Lions a 22-19 lead. A Berry three tied up the game, but Clary responded with a three-point play to give PSU the lead once more.

Out of the under-eight media timeout, Northwestern’s struggles only worsened. Matt Nicholson committed the team’s sixth turnover of the game on an errant pass that fell out of bounds, and Boo Buie fouled Kanye Clary from outside the arc to give Penn State three free throws and a 30-23 lead as a result. After a quick Barnhizer bucket, this all came to a head when officials called a technical foul on Chris Collins after incessantly complaining about a series of questionable calls, giving Penn State two more free throws.

Berry hit another three, which was matched by yet another Clary bucket. In the dying moments of the first half, Kern Jr. hit an incredible bucket off the glass with little time remaining on the shot clock, bringing the lead up to eight. Langborg generally struggled in the first half but made a nice shot of his own. The success was short-lived, though, as Clary closed out his 14-point half with a miraculous one-handed bucket that put Penn State in front 40-32 at the break.

Out of the halftime break, Zach Hicks missed a three for Penn State, allowing Barnhizer to respond and hit a deuce on a flawless pass from Hunger. Ryan Langborg got a steal, but Baldwin Jr. quickly responded by picking off a distracted Boo Buie. Berry proceeded to hit his fourth three of the game, bringing Penn State’s lead down to 5. Penn State’s offense went into overdrive from there, as points from Wahab, Dunn and Clary brought the lead up to double digits. It seemed that whenever Northwestern made progress, Penn State was able to respond, stymying any efforts to make up the deficit.

The messy play continued, as Northwestern turned the ball over twice more. However, a technical on Penn State coach Mike Rhoades provided a much-needed spark for the ‘Cats. Buie’s two free throws — which officially cemented him as the fourth highest on Northwestern’s all-time scoring list — was the start of an electric 15-0 run. Barnhizer followed up with a three point play, and Buie delivered a near-perfect ball for a Matt Nicholson flush, suddenly making it a one point game. A bucket from Martinelli pushed NU ahead, and two more from Buie and one courtesy of Barnhizer suddenly had Northwestern ahead, 62-55, in the blink of an eye.

PSU responded with a 6-0 run of its own, as Clary and Johnson combined to push the lead down to one. After four turnovers in a row by both teams, Brooks Barnhizer came up clutch in the final minutes for Northwestern, scoring three buckets to keep the ‘Cats in front. He went back and forth with Nick Kern Jr, who responded with two scores for PSU and put the game at 74-72 with 29 seconds remaining.

Langborg made a free throw for the ‘Cats, pushing the lead to three. Penn State had ample opportunities to respond, eventually drawing a foul with five seconds remaining. Kern Jr. missed both free throws, the second due to a lane violation, giving back the ball to Northwestern. Barnhizer hit another free throw to seal the victory for the ‘Cats, giving them their first win over Penn State in four years.

Northwestern will continue conference play on Saturday when it heads to Madison to take on No. 15 Wisconsin. Tip is set for 11 a.m. CT, and you can catch all the action on the Big Ten Network.