No matter how dire the basketball season may be for Penn State, there has always been one virtual certainty: Not getting swept by Northwestern. Well, that virtual certainty went straight to hell last night after Northwestern, with the help from some totally-not-clutch free throwing shooting by Penn State, as well as a questionable foul call in the game's waning few seconds, eked out a one-point victory in Happy Valley, completing a season sweep of PSU, and keeping alive their dreams of finally losing their NCAA Tournament virginity.
Tim Frazier was his usual self, hitting his patented floating mid-range jumpers (23 points) and dishing out assists (8 of them), and a pair of freshman in Jon Graham (10 points, 3 rebounds) and Ross Travis (10 points, 9 rebounds) stepped up when PSU was desperately seeking for some scoring amongst its younger players. Cam Woodyard and Jermaine Marshall (8 points and 7 rebounds, each) also deserve a shout-out for their performances. Unfortunately, such scoring and rebounding efforts were not enough to overcome shoddy perimeter defense in which Northwestern's John Shurna, Alex Marcotullio, and Drew Crawford led an all-out assault from 3-point land, resulting in a 15-for-29 effort for the Wildcats from behind the arc.
The game was chock full of runs by both teams: Penn State raced out to an early 8-point lead, only to allow a 12-0 Northwestern run to completely wash it away. The second half saw PSU rally from a 9-point deficit to take the lead in the final few minutes, only to blow it again towards the end. With PSU clinging to a one-point lead with 14 seconds left, Graham had a chance to hit a pair of free throws and force Northwestern to send it to overtime at best, with a three. Unfortunately, Graham bricked both attempts, and to add insult to injury, was whistled for a 'foul' on Shurna with 2.6 seconds left that looked highly questionable, at best. Shurna of course, hit both free throw attempts and Tim Frazier's NBA-range three pointer fell short at the buzzer. This was followed by an irate Pat Chambers unleashing his inner JoePa, trying to chase down one of the referees. Fortunately, Chambers' burly assistant Brian Daly was able to restrain him. Chambers later apologized for his reaction during the post-game press conference.
As upset as I may be about this defeat, and as annoyed as I got with the ESPNU announcers repeating ad nauseum about Northwestern's lack of NCAA experience and how desperately they needed to win this game, I do feel bad for Northwestern basketball fans and really would like to see their school finally get over the hump. At 17-11 and 7-9 in the Big Ten, Northwestern has a home game against Ohio State and a road game at Iowa. The Wildcats, who as of last night, were sitting on the right side of the bubble, will likely need to win one of those games to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.
Meanwhile, Penn State (12-17, 4-12) will have to try to snag an upset either on the road at Purdue this Wednesday or at home against Michigan next Sunday and hope that Nebraska loses their remaining two contests in order to avoid finishing dead last in the B1G and getting stuck with the 12 seed in the conference tournament. Let's just hope there's no hangover from this emotionally draining loss.