The Daily Northwestern

Men’s Basketball: Northwestern’s season ends after faltering late against Penn State

Barret Benson looks to move the ball. Despite his 9 points and nine rebounds, NU’s season ended with a Big Ten Tournament loss.

Barret Benson looks to move the ball. Despite his 9 points and nine rebounds, NU’s season ended with a Big Ten Tournament loss.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Barret Benson looks to move the ball. Despite his 9 points and nine rebounds, NU’s season ended with a Big Ten Tournament loss.

Ben Pope, Managing Editor

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Men’s Basketball

NEW YORK — In a season laden with injury absences by star players and late collapses in crucial games, it was undeniably fitting that Thursday’s game was determined by star senior Scottie Lindsey disqualifying and Northwestern subsequently falling apart.

After Lindsey picked up his fifth foul with 3:14 left, seventh-seeded Penn State instantly blew a 1-point game wide open and ultimately defeated 10th-seeded Northwestern 65-57 in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Wildcats (15-17, 6-12 Big Ten) finish the season having lost their last seven consecutive games — despite holding second-half leads in five of them.

“It’s kind of raw right now, I don’t really know how to feel,” Lindsey said after Thursday’s contest. “Obviously, this is not how we wanted the season to end … but I appreciate all the guys fighting until the end.”

Lindsey scored 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting Thursday, junior center Dererk Pardon led NU with 14 points and sophomore center Barret Benson, making his first start of the season, set his season high with 9 points and brought down a team-high nine rebounds.

Junior forward Vic Law and junior guard Jordan Ash both missed the game with injuries for the Cats, while Penn State (20-12, 9-9) also played without its third-leading scorer, 6-foot-9 forward Mike Watkins. Coach Chris Collins said that because of his shorthanded roster, Watkins’ absence and the ongoing losing streak, he decided a change of strategy was in order.

“I just felt like going with the two big guys and trying to play a power game … would give us a chance to cause some problems for them,” Collins said. “I noticed that (Benson’s) size was a factor in the game, especially when he was with Dererk.”

The power game was partially effective, as NU ground out a 22-14 advantage in points in the paint and essentially equaled a tall Nittany Lions team on the glass.

But it also was partially ineffective, as the combination of playing two centers for much of the game and being unable to guard shooters man-on-man in Collins’ favored zone defense left Penn State often open behind the arc.

“We knew we would have to have to hit a couple of shots for them to come out and guard us and create some lanes,” Penn State guard Shep Garner said. “But (instead) they stayed in the zone.”

And hit shots the Nittany Lions did. Garner buried four 3-pointers, Josh Reaves chipped in three of his own and Big Ten leading scorer Tony Carr erupted for a season-high six bombs — en route to a 25-point day — as Penn State went 13-of-29 from deep, overcoming the Cats’ advantage inside.

NU was nevertheless in position to potentially pull out a drought-snapping win for much of the afternoon, fighting to a 30-30 tie at halftime and holding a 54-52 lead with four and a half minutes to play. Collins said he was proud of his team for continuing to fight for all 40 minutes and not letting their campaign dismally “fade to black.”

Penn State, however, found that its late surge was enough to advance to a Friday date with second-seeded Ohio State and guarantee another game in the famed confines of Madison Square Garden.

The Cats, meanwhile, finished their season — one that began with their first-ever appearance in the preseason top 25 poll — with just 15 total wins, nine fewer than last year and tied for the second fewest since Collins’ debut campaign in 2013-14.

“Obviously, we didn’t want to end it this early,” senior guard Bryant McIntosh said. “It’s the start of March. (That’s) not what we envisioned at the start of this season.”

Twitter: @benpope111