The legend of Tino Malnati will never die. On Saturday, playing in his final game at Welsh-Ryan arena, the redshirt junior and grandson of local pizza icon Lou Malnati got his first start. Fans chanted, “Tino! Tino! Tino!”
Oh, and men's basketball (8-22, 3-17 B1G) got their third conference win of the season on Senior Day against 20th-ranked Penn State (21-10, 11-9 B1G).
The ’Cats beat the highly touted Nittany Lions 80-69, in a game that showed just how much fun Northwestern basketball can be at times. Between blown leads, 11 Wildcat three-pointers made, and the ever-present chants of “chicken sandwich,” it was the perfect way to close Welsh-Ryan for the year.
“Needless to say, it was just a great day for us. I’m just so happy that our guys were rewarded with this win,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said after the game. “To win two of our last three … to beat a really good team like Penn State who’s going to be going to the NCAA tournament … I’m just really proud of our guys.”
The ’Cats were led in the victory by an unbelievable showing from sophomore Miller Kopp, who made 5-of-9 threes enroute to 21 points. Boo Buie also shined, coming off the bench to swish 13 points. Penn State was led in their efforts by senior Lamar Stevens, who scored 18 points (but on 5-for-20 shooting) and grabbed eight rebounds, and junior John Harrar, who accomplished a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Northwestern also saw key performances from their seniors in their final games at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Grad transfer Pat Spencer continued his fantastic season with nine points, six rebounds and six assists, while senior A.J. Turner nailed two three-pointers enroute to ten points, three rebounds and four assists. The aforementioned legend Tino Malnati also grabbed 3 rebounds in the game's first four minutes.
“I'm super proud of the guys, because if you look at our record, there are a lot of people out there who would just quit,” Malnati said after the game. “As you can tell by the way we’ve been playing lately, we stay committed every single day … If we just keep it going, play a couple more games of college basketball here at Northwestern, it’ll really help the development heading into the future.”
At first, it looked like it was going to be a typical men’s game. The ’Cats raced out to a quick double-digit lead in the first half, going up by as much as 14 points while Penn State couldn't get anything going offensively. The Nittany Lions, however would claw all the way back to tie it at 34 going into halftime.
Unlike other games, though, the ’Cats never stopped shooting. After trading buckets for the first few minutes, Northwestern began to pull away on deep shots from Buie, Kopp and sophomore Pete Nance, while simultaneously locking down on defense, to put Penn State away.
Northwestern shined across the board, but their main bright spot was shooting accuracy. The ’Cats went 26-for-56 from the floor while going a balanced 11-for-22 from downtown, while also swishing 17 free throws. Meanwhile Penn State only made 23 shots on a whopping 70 taken, including 10 threes on 36 attempts, which allowed the ’Cats to pull away and finish the game with a double-digit win.
It took all season, but it happened: the ’Cats finally won against a ranked opponent. Not only was this the corner the team had been waiting to turn all season, but it gave the team to gain momentum before beginning their Big Ten tournament play on Wednesday, where they’ll take on Minnesota (14-16, 8-12 B1G).
“I think we’re definitely playing some really good basketball right now,” Turner said. “This win just kind of shows all the work that we’ve put in is paying off, so I think we can use this as momentum going into the tournament, and just keep it rolling.”