It was about this time a year ago when Penn State saw it's NCAA Tournament hopes dashed by Iowa in overtime. It was a bad loss on the road to a team the Nittany Lions really had no business losing to and left many a Penn State fan wondering "what if?" to this day.
But the galaxy has a way of balancing itself out. Iowa owns Penn State, but Penn State owns Northwestern.
After Sunday's 79-60 beat down of the Wildcats at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Lions have now dealt the 'cats two crushing defeats in 11 days and ruined their hopes of an at-large dance invitation. They've also won three of their last four games and are reminding fans why they believed in the team to begin with.
Penn State dominated from the tip off, burying a Northwestern team that was fighting for it's tournament life before the half. A Bill Edwards buzzer beater sent Penn State into the locker room ahead 49-31.
The Wildcats came out firing as Micheal Thompson hit two threes in Northwestern's first two possessions, but not even that was enough to hold the Lions back. Penn State flirted with a 20 point lead the rest of the game and coasted to its third Big Ten win of the season.
The balance of scoring down the lineup was even better than in Penn State's first win against Northwestern on Feb. 17 in which five Nittany Lions finished in double figures. Sunday, the Lions got five points or more from eight different players, including 9 each from reserve guards Tim Frazier and Cammeron Woodyard. Even freshman Sasa Borovnjak chipped in five points in limited minutes. Overall, the bench scored 25 points alone. Penn State shot 57% from the field and once again generated offense almost at will against a Northwestern team that enter has to be wondering what's gone wrong against the last place team in the league twice.
Andrew Jones posted another solid line Sunday, an eight point/seven rebound effort, including a thunderous slam dunk off a Talor Battle pass in the first half. He's been roundly criticized, but he and fellow junior Jeff Brooks (eleven points, seven rebounds) have responded in the last couple of weeks after slow starts to fuel Penn State's current climb from the basement of the Big Ten. If Penn State is planning to mount any kind of a run in the last two games of the regular season and the Big Ten tournament, it'll be performances like today's from Jones and Brook's that will help them immensely. Neither player is going to be the star of this team. Heck, with the emergence of David Jackson in 2010, they may not even be the first or second options going forward, but solid lines like Sunday's could propel the Lions to good things the rest of the way and heading into next season.
Penn State has seven blocks on Sunday, three of which belonged to Chris Babb. Ed Dechellis said on the radio after the game that he tells his players that they can either be shot blockers or charge takers, and since no one of the team is very good at the former, he's prepared to settle on the former. Fortunately Sunday, he was able to get both from his team
Kind of amazing to see so little out of Northwestern today. The 'cats had everything to play for, but instead they showed up and played H-O-R-S-E for 40 minutes, jacking up 28 three-point attempts on the afternoon. Northwestern shot 32% from the field and simply couldn't keep up with the Lions at all. For a team that had NCAA hopes, it was a disappointing effort to say the least.
The Lions gave up 11 offensive rebounds Sunday, a regression from some of the recent games in which their offensive rebounding has been pretty darn good. While the rebounding in general has been very good, that part of Penn State's game hasn't developed nearly enough yet. The Lions can't, can't, can't give up second chances especially against the better teams they'll be playing this week and in the Big Ten tournament.
The Lions are regressing at the free throw line again, and were fortunate that today they played one of the few schools worse at hitting free throws than they are. Penn State shot 66% from the line, and Northwestern 63%. Both pretty depressing.
Not really a whole lot to complain about here. As a team, Penn State put together a complete performance, one that would indicate that the Lions might very well be a factor in Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament. Right now, Penn State is looking at a first round matchup with Minnesota and a second round matchup with Sparty should they beat the Gophers
Penn State now faces two of the toughest teams on its schedule in Purdue and Michigan St. this week. Fortunately for Penn State, Pudue's Robbie Hummel won' be playing because due to injury. If the Lions can pull a win off against either of those teams, there's no doubt they'd be the team no one would want to play at the office.