We already knew it, but some of us had faint hope that Mike Watkins would be available to play at some point in the Big Ten Tournament. Maybe not to night, but against Ohio State, and with luck, beyond. The injury gods had other ideas in mind, and the Nittany Lions had to make do without their big man tonight. They’ll have to continue to make do without him the rest of the way, but at least tonight is out of the way.
Northwestern knew that without Watkins, Penn State didn’t have a presence inside, and they made sure to have multiple guys in the paint ready to double up anyone who dared go inside the paint. Ironically, the Wildcats weren’t all that interested in going inside themselves on offense.
The strategy didn’t seem to matter early, as the Wildcats were shooting 52% at some point in the first half to Penn State’s 29%, which allowed them to build a 27-20 lead. Luckily for the Lions, they got their prolonged drought out of the way in the first half this time, which was a major key in their comeback effort.
The Lions would end up shooting 35% in the first half, and while not as pronounced, the struggles would continue into the second. The Lions would open up the second half with three made 3-pointers to open up a 39-32 lead, but would once again go cold for stretches, which kept the Wildcats in the game. The shots fell when it mattered, though, and that was the end of that.
Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions did not rest their starters in this game, as Northwestern went down swinging. That will likely have implications for Friday’s contest, but for now, they get to see another day.
Four Factors Analysis
If it doesn’t jump out at you, let me point right to it: The reason Penn State was able to survive multiple scoring droughts had almost everything to do with how they took care of the ball. Five turnovers in the entire game is exceptional, and rendered almost everything else meanignless.
Player of the Game
Northwestern prepared for Tony Carr, but the sophomore was still able to get his, and added four assists to boot.
Live by the three, die by the three - Without an inside presence, Penn State elected to move the ball to the outside and take their chances there. The Nittany Lions shot 44.8% from three, and 36.1% from two.
20 Wins - Something of a foregone conclusion at certain programs, Penn State had eclipsed 20 wins only four times since joining the Big Ten (26 seasons). Say what you will about how the season should have gone, but the fact that it did lead to 20 wins after almost all of us thought they’d be lucky to have a winning season,* is something to be celebrated.
But let’s play what if anyway - There are the what ifs that argue that Penn State should have been better at the beginning of the season, but there are also the what ifs that, when applied to the end of the season, showcase how much Penn State improved down the stretch. What if they’d had all five starters all season...?
NIT chances are good - With the win, the Lions have put themselves in position to earn an NIT bid for the first time in Pat Chambers’s tenure. Any wins from here on out are gravy.
The Nittany Lions get a third date with Ohio State on Friday, March 2nd, at 6:30 PM Eastern on BTN. Without Watkins, it’s tough to feel optimistic about a third straight win against the Buckeyes.
*Shout out to Chris for keeping the Faith