After all but guaranteeing a trip to the NCAA Tournament with a victory over Illinois on Thursday night, Micah Shrewsberry and the Penn State Nittany Lions battled the Northwestern Wildcats in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday night.
Early on the game was uglier than the 17-7 slopfest the Nittany Lions and Wildcats played in football this season. Through the first 9 minutes of the first half the two teams were tied at 6 and both were struggling mightily from the field.
While it was a very sloppy offensive start a shoutout needs to be given to Mikey Henn. Coming off the bench, Henn hit his first two field goals of the game to give the Nittany Lions their first 5 points of the contest.
In the final 10 minutes of the second half both team’s started to make some more shots offensively, even though neither ever seemed to find a groove. This contributed to four first half times and six lead changes.
With Jalen Pickett once again struggling to score, the Nittany Lion offense struggled to get into any sort of first half rhythm. With this, the Wildcats held 26-25 halftime lead. However, at halftime, key Northwestern cogs Boo Buie and Tydus Verhoeven found themselves with foul issues.
Into the second half the Nittany Lions continued to play an aggressive, stifling defense. The problem was they struggled to rebound. This was made into an even bigger problem when Kebba Njie picked up his fourth foul early in the second half.
In the second half Andrew Funk started to heat up. From hitting three-point shots, to driving to the rim, and finding success at the free throw line, for the second time in as many days Funk was the best Nittany Lion player on the court.
With 10:07 remaining in the game Kanye Clary hit a layup to get Penn State’s lead to a game high 7, at 45-38. Northwestern answered with a 9-0 run to regain the lead. After Seth Lundy sunk a three-point shot to give the Nittany Lions a 48-47 lead, the dogfight to the finish was on.
Down the stretch Penn State had opportunities to put the game away but failed to due so, largely due to missed free throws. In regulation the Nittany Lions were just 13/21 from the charity stripe while Northwestern was 14/15. Had Penn State made even one more free throw, they would have won the game.
After a great defensive series that was led by Funk, the Nittany Lions pulled in a big defensive rebound giving themselves a chance to win on the final shot. Funk got a good look, but missed a three in the final second. As was the case in the regular season matchup, the game went to overtime after Funk missed an open three at the end of regulation.
Early in overtime Pickett was making up for struggling much of the night, but poor free throw shooting continued. It appeared the poor free throw shooting might cost Penn State the game.
With 0:49 seconds left in overtime Seth Lundy sunk a massive three-pointer. One of the biggest shots of his career, gave the Nittany Lions a 64-62 lead. With Penn State leading 66-64 they nearly turned the ball over on an inbound play but were just able to get a timeout called.
After Lundy went hit one of two free throws, Penn State quickly fouled Boo Buie so Northwestern could not attempt a game tying three. After Buie intentionally missed his second free throw attempt it appeared Myles Dread had corralled the rebound. The ball then flew into the air where it was corralled by Northwestern’s Chase Audige. A desperation, off blacked three attempt Audige was no good and the Nittany Lions held on for a dramatic victory.
Northwestern dominated a lot of key stats in this game. Turnovers, points off turnovers, and free throw shooting all heavily favored the Wildcats. However, the Nittany Lions out rebounded the Wildcats 41-38 and held them to just 31.8% from the field.
Penn State is now 21-12 overall, 12-10 in the Big Ten. With this win Penn State likely bumped themselves up to the 8/9 seed line for the NCAA Tournament and there could still be room for upward movement this weekend.
Player of the Game
Seth Lundy - 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3/8 from three-point range
Whenever this season ends, Lundy is going to be remembered as one of the best players in program history. Friday night he scored a team leading 16 points, to go with 7 rebounds. Down the stretch he made one clutch shot after another, including a huge three-pointer in overtime and a free throw that helped ice the game. When this magical ride comes to end at some point in the next few weeks, Lundy will be sorely missed.
Kanye Clary speed - As the season has gone on freshman Kanye Clary has seen his play improve and role increase. More than once on Friday night he used his speed to make plays and create offense. Clary finished the night with 11 points.
Evan Mahaffey, what is up? - After not playing on Thursday night, Evan Mahaffey played just 3 minutes on Friday. Coach Shrews said it was a “coach’s decision” on Thursday. So, what is up with Mahaffey?
Andrew Funk’s headiness, high basketball IQ - Once again, Funk was shooting threat for Penn State. However, his headiness, basketball IQ, and willingness to drive to the rim all stood out. No play Funk made was bigger than being able to make a deep pass up the court to a wide open Lundy in the waning seconds of overtime. This allowed the Nittany Lions to chew up precious seconds before Lundy went to the free throw line in what was one of the most important, but likely overlooked, plays of the game.
Saturday afternoon Penn State will look to punch their ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game. The Nittany Lions will play the winner of Maryland and Indiana, who are about to tip off, at 3:30 PM ET on CBS.