Men’s Basketball: Northwestern seniors go out with a whimper in 7th straight loss

Senior forward Drew Crawford drives to the basket. Crawford scored 6 points against Penn State in his final home game.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior forward Drew Crawford drives to the basket. Crawford scored 6 points against Penn State in his final home game.

Rohan Nadkarni, Reporter

Senior Night at Welsh-Ryan Arena was a night for memories. After the festivities ended, however, Northwestern played a game it would soon like to forget.

The Wildcats (12-18, 5-12 Big Ten) fell to Penn State (15-15, 6-11), 59-32, in their last home game of the season. The loss to the Nittany Lions was NU’s seventh straight.

Penn State had the game put away by the end of the first half — the Nittany Lions went on a 22-6 run to head into halftime with a 32-15 lead. Despite an emotional entrance into the game, senior Drew Crawford struggled out of the gate, missing five field goals and three free throws in the first half alone.

“The bottom line is, you’re not going to win if you score only 32 points,” coach Chris Collins said. “We’re going to keep fighting. We’ve lost games like this before and we’ve bounced back. We live to see another day on Sunday. As long as there are games to be played, we’ll keep fighting.”

NU struggled dealing with Penn State’s full court defense. Guards dribbled into double teams, passes went backward or big men were forced to bring the ball up the floor and often made poor decisions after doing so.

As Penn State poured on the points, NU began showing its frustration. Senior forward Nikola Cerina angrily threw a towel to the ground during a timeout in the first half. In the second, Collins drew an unsportsmanlike conduct technical foul for complaining to referees about a missed call.

“It’s a lot of emotions. You’re a little bit stunned,” Collins said of how team felt while down big. “Emotionally, you’re competitive, you’re frustrated, you’re mad. You go through a wide array of emotions. We get mad but we try to stay positive.”

The Cats’ lack of depth, especially with junior guard JerShon Cobb out for the year, became an eyesore as Collins tried a slew of different lineups to spark some kind of rhythm. Little-used forward Nate Taphorn, a freshman, and guard James Montgomery III, a senior, were among those who saw significant time on the court.

As usual, NU’s shooting left much to be desired. The Cats made only 10 field goals all game, shooting a paltry 23.3 percent and an equally poor 42.9 percent from the free throw line.

Crawford, who turned down chances to transfer to return to NU for his senior season, finished his final home game with only 6 points, failing to score in the second half. Sophomore center Alex Olah led the team with 14 points.

“They do a good job of protecting the paint,” Crawford said of the Penn State defense. “They do a good job of closing driving lanes. They played great help defense. When you do get in the paint, they have guys slapping at the ball.”

In NU’s wins this season, the defense has bailed out the offense. That wasn’t the case Thursday, when the Nittany Lions hit 50 percent of their shots, including a stellar 40 percent from three.

“Northwestern makes you play this way. It’s difficult,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said after heaping praise on Collins. “They’ve beaten some big-time teams. I was proud of our approach.”

The Cats’ regular season ends Sunday with a road matchup against Purdue, whom NU beat 63-60 in double overtime earlier this season.

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