Blown Out By Penn State (Men’s Basketball)

Scott Duncan

INDIANAPOLIS–One by one, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody pulled his seniors off the floor in the closing seconds of the Wildcats’ blowout loss against Penn State.

Each senior–Evan Seacat, Michael Jenkins, Mohamed Hachad and Vedran Vukusic–came to the bench with looks of frustration, as they experienced, for the third season in a row, the conclusion of a season one game under .500.

Their hopes of making the postseason for the first time since 1999 likely disappeared with NU’s lackluster performance in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The eighth-seeded Nittany Lions (15-13) dominated the ninth-seeded Cats (14-15) on both ends of the floor, running away with a 60-42 victory Thursday.

“I feel terrible,” Vukusic said. “I’ve never felt worse in my entire life. I let these guys down when they least expected it or least needed it.”

Vukusic never looked comfortable against Penn State’s 2-3 zone defense. The forward, who led the Big Ten in scoring during the regular season with 19.4 points per game, was held to 10 points on 3 for 9 shooting.

Carmody said Vukusic’s body language wasn’t good, and Vukusic agreed he did not feel right after the opening tip off.

“I felt like I was asleep at the beginning of the game, instead of being ready for what could be the last game of my career,” Vukusic said. “I was sort of relaxed. I didn’t have that sense of urgency inside me. I can’t explain why that happened.”

Vukusic and his teammates combined for just 32 percent shooting, including 23 percent from 3-point range.

Seacat, who made 6 of 11 3-pointers against Penn State the last time the teams played, converted just 2 of 10 shots from beyond the arc on Thursday.

“They pack their zone in and give you a lot of shots,” Carmody said. “We just missed them. We’re the worst 3-point shooting team in the league, so it’s great coaching on their part.”

In the first four minutes of the game, Penn State made three 3-pointers to help open an early nine-point lead. NU never seemed to recover from the early deficit.

The Cats cut the lead to eight with 48 seconds left in the first half on a Hachad layup, but NU never got closer. With 4:59 left in the game, Penn State held a 26-point lead.

“In the middle of the second half, it got borderline embarrassing,” said junior forward Tim Doyle, who scored zero points in 29 minutes. “They’re a very average team, and they made us look like we don’t even belong in this league.”

Hachad had 16 points on 7 of 15 shooting for the Cats.

Penn State forward Geary Claxton led the Nittany Lions with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Forward Travis Parker and guard Mike Walker both scored 10.

Penn State moves on to Friday’s quarterfinal round against top-seeded Ohio State, while NU is left to ponder what could have been.

“It’s tough ending a career here at this moment,” Vukusic said. “We lost a close game to Ohio State. We lost to Penn State twice in the regular season. We lost so many close games. We could have been in the NCAA (tournament). It’s the third year in a row we’re looking back.”

Reach Scott Duncan at [email protected]

For more coverage see “Legacy of Players Won’t Be Determined By One Game”.LINK