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Men’s Basketball: Wildcats embrace pressure ahead of Nittany Lions matchup

Josh Walfish

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After Northwestern’s loss to Michigan on Tuesday, NU’s NCAA Tournament hopes took a severe hit. Fans were scrambling after the game to see what the prognosticators said about the Wildcats’ chances at making the Big Dance.

The hype surrounding NU’s opportunity to make the tournament has enveloped the entire country, with media outlets watching the Cats’ every move. Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said his team, which is similarly positioned on the bubble, failed to handle the pressure after the Golden Gophers lost 64-53 to the Cats last Saturday.

“The great players want that pressure,” Smith said. “They seek it, they embrace it. Obviously we don’t.”

That same anxiety has been placed on NU the last three seasons. Every year the question has remained the same: Is this the year? Reggie Hearn said after the Cats’ loss to the Wolverines the team doesn’t play with that thought on its mind – it plays to win the game at hand.

“There was more excitement than anxiety or feeling like we were fighting history,” the junior guard said. “We were loud and everyone was ready to go. We came out with good effort, good intensity and a great desire to win. We embrace the fact we are fighting that, and it gives us energy.”

The challenge will only be magnified as NU heads to University Park, Pa., to take on Penn State. The Cats defeated the Nittany Lions on Jan. 1, ending a six-game streak of losing to them. However, NU has not won in the Bryce Jordan Center since 2002 and will need a victory over the Big Ten cellar dweller to keep its tournament hopes alive.

The game features the two leading scorers in the conference, senior forward John Shurna at 20 points per game and Penn State guard Tim Frazier with 18.5.

Junior forward Drew Crawford is averaging 16.2 points per contest, good for fifth in the conference, and went off for a game-high 21 points in the schools’ matchup in January.

Crawford has proven his excellence both on and off the court. The junior was named a second-team Capital One Academic All-American by the College Sports Information Directors of America. He is the first NU men’s basketball player in 18 years and eighth in history to earn that distinction.

Luckily for the Cats, the Nittany Lions are the Big Ten’s worst team in many offensive categories with which NU struggles. The Cats are 11th in scoring defense, but the Nittany Lions are last in scoring offense. The same trend applies to field goal percentage, for which NU ranks 11th in defense and Penn State 12th in offense.

joshuawalfish2014@u.northwestern.edu

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About the Writer
Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

Josh Walfish was Sports editor of The Daily. His past positions include Gameday editor. He is from Rockville, Md., and has interned for RantSports.