Everything was going to plan. Northwestern (20-10, 11-8 BIG) and Penn State (18-12, 9-10 BIG) were tied at 65 with seven seconds to go in overtime when Penn State star graduate guard Jalen Pickett missed a contested jumper. Northwestern’s prayers had been answered, until Penn State scooped up the offensive rebound and found graduate guard Camren Wynter wide open for three in the corner.
After missing the potential game winning three in regulation, Penn State would not be denied a second time. Inevitability, this gritty, physical and sometimes sloppy game, was decided by poor rebounding and a blown coverage.
What a way to end arguably the most memorable season at Welsh-Ryan Arena to date.
The first half was an offensive struggle for both teams, with Northwestern leading 28-24 at halftime. The Wildcats came out hot, building a 10 point lead multiple times, however, Penn State roared back, scoring 14 of their 24 first half points in the final five minutes.
Like always, winning the turnover battle was key to Northwestern’s success. When they were successful in the first half, the Wildcats had six steals and had forced nine Penn State turnovers. But when Penn State finally took care of the ball long enough to get a shot, they were able to capitalize, outshooting the ’Cats 46% to 36% across the whole game.
The Nittany Lions carried their momentum into the second half, going on an 8-0 run, and reclaiming the lead. It looked like another second half meltdown was on the horizon for the ’Cats, but once again, star fourth-year point guard Boo Buie put the team on his back and erased the deficit.
The teams battled back and forth for the majority of the second half, neither being able to get their lead past six and blow the game open.
Down the stretch, both teams went ice cold, and that continued into overtime. A jumper by Buie with 2:45 left gave Northwestern a temporary one point lead, but those were the last points the ’Cats scored. Penn State was able to regain command, and, well, you know the rest.
Final overtime score: Penn State 68, Northwestern 65.
Offensively, it was a team effort for the ’Cats headlined by Buie and second-year guard Brooks Barnhizer scoring 20 points and 19 points, respectively. Though it was good to see several players get involved, especially since graduate guard Chase Audige has been in a slump for the past few games, the offense was sporadic at best. Their highs, while entertaining, were not enough to compensate for the disastrous lows, most notably the one in overtime.
On the other end, third-year guard Ty Berry really stepped up. He drew one of the toughest assignments the Big Ten has to offer in Pickett, who’s averaging 18.5 points per game this year. Berry, and the rest of Northwestern’s defense, held him to seven points, and only two in the first half.
Unfortunately for the ’Cats, there are four other guys on the floor as well, and they, with the help of Pickett’s 11 assists, more than made up for his lack of scoring. Wynter, who nailed the final shot, led all scorers with 24 points, shooting 4-5 from three.
This marks Northwestern’s third straight defeat, dropping them to a four-way tie for third place in the Big Ten standings. With the conference tournament coming up next week and double-byes hanging in the balance, Northwestern’s final regular season game at Rutgers (18-11, 10-8 BIG) on Sunday, is a must win.