Miracle Dagger Slays Lions (Men’s Basketball)

Andrew Simon

By Andrew SimonThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern almost let its second Big Ten victory get away after leading by as many as 14 points. But Penn State guard Geary Claxton’s last-second shot attempt rimmed out, and the Wildcats held on for a 53-51 win Saturday.

NU (12-12, 2-9 Big Ten) moved out of the Big Ten cellar by snapping a four-game losing streak and beating Penn State (10-13, 1-9) for the first time in five tries. It was the Cats’ first conference home win of the season.

“It feels really good,” said freshman Kevin Coble, who led the team with 16 points and 10 rebounds. “It’s a weight off our shoulders … Now we’ll be able to focus on winning more games, as opposed to finding ways not to lose any more.”

After racing out to a rare fast start by shooting 60 percent in the first half, NU shot less than 30 percent in the second half. That allowed Penn State to climb back within one point with slightly fewer than three minutes to play.

But then the Cats caught a break. Sophomore Craig Moore, who recently lost his spot in the starting lineup, got the ball with two seconds left on the shot clock and dribbled backwards. He then heaved a desperation 3-pointer from at least 30 feet away that somehow dropped through the net.

“I just dribbled as fast as I could and threw it as high as I could and just prayed,” Moore said.

Seconds later, the lead was right back at one after guard Mike Walker’s trey. When NU missed multiple chances to extend its lead, Penn State got the ball back with 36.9 seconds left, trailing by one.

A jump ball gave possession to the Nittany Lions under the Cats’ basket with 21 seconds remaining, but freshman Jeff Ryan stole the inbounds pass and drew a foul.

“We’re taught to go after the ball, unlike some other teams that play ‘solid defense,’ you know, sit behind your man,” senior Tim Doyle said. “We’re more of a gambling type, and I think that’s why we lead the league in steals.”

When Ryan made only one of two free throws, Penn State had a chance to send the game to overtime. The Nittany Lions got the ball to Claxton, who lead the team with 16 points and eight rebounds. The junior dribbled right along the perimeter, cut inside and spun around Doyle into the lane. But the shot didn’t fall, Doyle grabbed the rebound and the Cats escaped with the win.

“I thought (Doyle) played him very well,” coach Bill Carmody said. “He kept his body in front of him. (Claxton) went right to the basket, but (Doyle) was right there in between them.”

Doyle finished second on the Cats with 15 points, including 10 on layups, as NU repeatedly hurt Penn State on fast breaks.

After Doyle picked up his fourth foul and had to go to the bench with 14:17 to play, the game turned in Penn State’s favor. Trailing by 13 at the time, Penn State started an 18-6 run.

“The second half was extremely frustrating, especially against the zone,” Doyle said. “That’s one of my strengths.”

The Cats reversed their recent trend of slow starts by knocking down four of their first five shots. They broke away from the Nittany Lions midway through the first half with a 14-2 run that put them in front by 11.

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