If there was one phrase to describe this Northwestern men’s basketball season, it would be “close, but no cigar.” In their game against 13th-ranked Penn State on Saturday, this sentiment was on full display, as the Wildcats (6-18, 1-13 B1G) lost a rough battle against the Nittany Lions (20-5, 10-4 B1G) in University Park by a score of 77-61.
The ’Cats played hard and stayed in the fight throughout the match, even when trailing big for most of the match. They opened the game with five straight points and played gritty through the first period, before going cold and trailing 42-28 at halftime. Undeterred, the ’Cats attempted to comeback with runs of seven and six unanswered points to bring the margin down to seven, before Penn State woke up and locked down to cement the game's lead and their Big Ten dominance.
“I was really proud of our effort," said head coach Chris Collins postgame. "If you get down 20 in this building, with the crowd and the energy, you could want to get to the next game. Our guys kept playing."
Although seemingly lopsided, the Wildcats played well and had key contributions from all players. Four players scored double-digit totals, including sophomore Pete Nance, who came off the bench and went a nearly-perfect 6-for-7 from the field to finish with 12 points. Freshman Boo Buie, sophomore Miller Kopp, and grad transfer Pat Spencer also contributed, scoring 12, 10 and 11 points respectively. Redshirt junior Tino Malnati — whose grandfather notably founded Lou Malnati's Pizzeria — also scored his first two points of his college career.
Penn State was led in their victory by senior Lamar Stevens, who had a remarkable performance of 23 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore Myles Dread also shined, scoring 16 points and going 4-for-11 from three-point range.
Northwestern actually outshot Penn State 46.6% from the field (against their 43.1%), and had less fouls. Where the ’Cats faltered, however, was in their shooting from downtown: the team went 2-for-14 from behind the arc, while Penn State made it rain with an 11-for-31 day.
“[Penn State was] able to execute down the stretch, get themselves fouled, have some finishes," said Collins. "In the last five, six minutes I thought we had numerous opportunities in the paint that we couldn’t finish. That’s just where we have to get better, playing a lot of young kids, the physicality and learning how to finish late in the game. [I] was proud of our effort, and obviously it’s time to get on to the next one.”
Proving once again that they are not an easy opponent, the ’Cats will try again for an upset in Maryland on Tuesday, where they’ll face the ninth-ranked Terrapins. This season is far from over, and if there’s anything the ’Cats have shown in their games, it’s that you can’t count out anyone until the final buzzer sounds.
Stats provided by ESPN