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Penn State 77, Northwestern 61: No Letdown Here, Folks!

PSU used a barrage of three-pointers to deny Northwestern the upset bid.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off the high of a huge road win at Purdue, one which extended the team’s winning streak to seven games, and boosted their projected seeding in numerous bracket projection websites to around the 3 or 4 line, it would have been difficult to blame any fan who wondered if a potential letdown was on the horizon. With a dead-last but scrappy Northwestern squad coming to Happy Valley, such a letdown was not outside the realm of possibility.

Things did indeed get off to a slow start, as PSU misfired on their first four field goal attempts, all from three-point range and spotted Northwestern the game’s first five points in the process. PSU would eventually heat up, as Jamari Wheeler, Lamar Stevens, and Seth Lundy all nailed consecutive treys.

With PSU clinging to a one-point advantage at the 12-minute mark, the Lions would utilize solid defense combined with some three-point shooting (PSU would nail seven treys in total in the half), offensive rebounding (PSU had ten offensive boards in the first half alone), as well as Lamar and Mike Watkins asserting themselves at the hoop, to go on a 19-4 run that would see them leading by as much as 17 points, ultimately taking a 42-28 lead to the locker room.

The second half saw both teams get off to a slow start offensively the first couple of minutes before heating up and putting on an offensive fireworks show. PSU would boost its lead up to 18 points before Northwestern, staying hot throughout most of the second half and taking advantage of a suddenly stagnant PSU offense, gradually cut into the lead until it was suddenly just a seven-point game with five minutes to play.

Myles Dread however, came to the rescue for the second straight week, nailing a crucial three-point as the shot clock expired to push PSU’s lead back to ten. Lamar would follow it up with a pair of free throws after drawing a foul, followed by a huge stuff of an attempted Northwestern dunk on the other end, followed by another free throw to put the lead back up to 13. Northwestern would go cold shooting from the floor and never threatened the rest of the way, sealing PSU’s eighth consecutive win, and giving them their 20th overall win of the season.

PPP and Four Factors

The first thing that sticks out for me is that the game had a truly nice number of possessions. Also, while both teams had the same number of turnovers (11) and Northwestern actually outshot PSU percentage-wise (46 to 43), PSU had much higher PPP and eFG% numbers because of their ridiculous offensive rebounding advantage (13 to 5). It also certainly helps when PSU nails nine more three-pointers than their opponent. Additionally, Northwestern only shot 5-for-10 from the free throw line, which is something you absolutely cannot do if you’re vying to pull off the upset of the year.

Random Observations

  • Talor Battle was in the house for the second straight weekend, this time to see his brother, Northwestern freshman guard Boo Buie play. Battle would tell the BTN broadcasting crew that he wanted to see Boo score 25 points and PSU win by one (as anyone torn between alma mater and family would probably feel). Boo led Northwestern in scoring with 12 points, and also showed he was truly related to Talor by attempting some very deep treys (none of which went down, as he finished 0-for-4 from downtown)
  • Another familiar face to PSU sports fans was Northwestern point guard Pat Spencer. Spencer is a grad transfer from Loyola (MD), where he was an All-American lacrosse player, going up against PSU in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Spencer had a good afternoon, putting up 11 points to go with three rebounds, three assists, and a block.
  • In perhaps an homage to NBA All-Star Weekend, Penn State attempted 31 treys in this game, connecting on 11 of them. While it was good to see them hitting at such a clip, I found myself yelling at the TV because it felt like they could have worked to try and get a better shot closer to the basket. Furthermore, there were some really ill-advised quick shots from downtown late in the game that were infuriating. It didn’t cost them today, but down the road against better opponents, especially in postseason play, it could catch up with them.

Breaking Battle

In this newest addition to the recap, we’re going to see how Lamar Stevens is faring in his quest to break Talor Battle’s all-time scoring record. Lamar now has 2,103 points, which puts him only 35 points behind Jesse Arnelle, and 110 points behind Battle with at least eight more games remaining (six regular season, one Big Ten Tournament, and one NCAA Tournament game).

The way the team has been playing, they should hopefully end up playing more than one Big Ten and/or NCAA Tournament game, but Lamar would only need to average 13.8 points per game over the next eight games in order to eclipse Battle, which is quite doable at this juncture. Look for him to overtake Arnelle to become PSU’s second all-time scorer either at Indiana next Sunday or on February 26th at home against Rutgers.

Up Next

No. 13 Penn State (20-5, 10-4) plays host to No. 22 Illinois (16-8, 8-5) this Tuesday at the BJC in the schools’ only scheduled meeting this season. Tip-off will be at 6:30 PM ET on FS1.