So this is what rock bottom feels like.
Northwestern (12-10, 3-8 B1G) dropped its eighth Big Ten game with a 59-52 loss to Penn State (8-14, 1-10 B1G), who was previously winless in conference, after a moribund shooting performance. Initially, though, early returns were promising as the Wildcats were finally able to gain some momentum in the first minutes of this match. Anthony Gaines — who scored a career-high 18 points against No. 21 Maryland — helped the team get off to a fast start offensively, tallying five points within the first three minutes of the game.
Penn State had not won a game in five weeks, and has generally been pretty putrid in conference on their way to ten conference losses in a row. That being said, neither team has a particularly strong offense; the Wildcats average 68.5 points per game, which leaves them tied with the Nittany Lions at 265th nationally. But with players like Lamar Stevens, who ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring, the Nittany Lions had the potential to turn it around against the Wildcats, and turn it around they did.
Penn State crawled back as the Wildcat’ offense stalled, going on an 8-2 run to make it 12-10 NU. Even after a 3-point play from Dererk Pardon, the Nittany Lions offense couldn't be stopped as they took the lead. With three minutes left in the half, Penn State was shooting 50 percent from the field, while the Wildcats were shooting 37 percent.
The game remained close as the half ran out. Northwestern's 44 percent three-point shooting kept them in the game, while Anthony Gaines showcased his energetic play with a steal and a dunk to finish the half with seven points and three rebounds. AJ Turner also kept the Cats alive with two key threes.
As the second half began Pardon began to heat up, quickly clocking four points to lead the Wildcats with nine points. Law, who in recent games has struggled to put points on the board, also hit a huge three to pull the Wildcats out of a nearly four minute scoring drought and a near shot clock violation. Nonetheless, Northwestern did not manage to take the lead during the first 10 minutes of the half.
The Wildcats’ started to gain some energy after Pardon threw down a huge dunk, which was followed by three-pointers from both Law and Miller Kopp. Penn State quickly called a timeout as their lead shrunk to only two, but the Nittany Lions maintained their lead after the timeout as the Wildcats continued to miss shots; the 'Cats field goal percentage dropping to below 33 percent. Gaines fouled out with 2:30 left, and a string of turnovers on offense shook morale for Northwestern.
Throughout the game, the Wildcats were unable to find opportunities in their half court sets, and scored only 10 points off fastbreak opportunities compared to Penn State’s 20. The Nittany Lions made them work for every basket defensively, showcasing Northwestern's apparently season-long struggle to get good, clean looks. On the other hand, Penn State shot 26 free throws as the 'Cats got into serious foul trouble by the end of the match.
What started off strong quickly became the low point for Northwestern this season, drastically hurting any hopes of postseason play low, especially when leaders like Law are shooting 3-17 from the field. Unfortunately for the 'Cats, the gauntlet doesn't stop. Facing Iowa this Sunday, the Wildcats will hope to pull themselves back up as they take on another B1G contender.