Rapid Recap: Northwestern 80, No. 20 Penn State 69

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Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

(Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman). Miller Kopp drives the lane. The sophomore forward led the team in scoring Saturday.

John Riker, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern entered the final game of the regular season with a 2-17 record in Big Ten play. Saturday’s upset win over No. 20 Penn State will boost them to only three conference wins on the season, but to the Wildcats and their fans, it meant so much more.

Forward Miller Kopp scored 21 points with five three-point makes and freshman guard Boo Buie tallied all 13 of his points in the second half as the Wildcats (8-22, 3-18 in Big Ten) knocked off the Nittany Lions (21-10, 11-9) at home, 80-69.

Starting a senior-laden lineup, the Cats were in their element early on both ends of the floor. NU connected on a trio of three-pointers to open the scoring and stretched their lead to 16-4 in the first eight minutes. The Cats’ D also coerced the Nittany Lions into four turnovers and just 1-13 shooting from the field during the stretch.

NU couldn’t contain ranked Penn State forever. After a dormant opening to the game, the Nittany Lions proceeded to score on its next four possessions, and although the Cats answered back with a couple buckets from sophomore guard Ryan Greer and a second-chance tip-in from Kopp, Penn State cut its deficit down to six.

By the end of the half, the Cats’ comfortable lead had evaporated, though a pair of Ryan Young free throws kept the score tied at 34 going into the break.

NU took back the lead in the opening minutes of the second-half, boosted by early three-point makes by Kopp. Young’s and-one with just over six minutes to go boosted the Cats’ lead to double digits. Kopp added another triple with 5:44 to go, and Welsh-Ryan Arena exploded with cheers.

Instead of folding, NU kept piling up points and building their confidence. And with every bucket and rebound, the cheers grew louder and it started to settle in — the Cats could actually do it. Then the clock hit zero, and it was final — NU sealed the deal.

ANOTHER WELSH-RYAN THRILLER

The Cats have had plenty of heartbreaking close contests against their Big Ten rivals this season, from falling on a last-second three to Purdue to surrendering a 14-point halftime lead to Maryland. Against another ranked team in Penn State, NU stayed ahead for most of the game, but their hold on the game seemed tenuous against the potent Nittany Lions offense. Instead, the Cats went on a 17-5 tear to take control and finished their regular season with one of the most impressive upsets of the Chris Collins era.

CATS LET IT FLY
Whenever Penn State seemed poised to take over the game, NU responded with a three-pointer to halt the Nittany Lions’ momentum. The Cats finished the first half shooting 5-for-10 from beyond the arc and succeeded in creating open looks against the Penn State defense. The hot shooting continued in the second half, as Kopp added to his total with four makes in six attempts in the second half. NU finished the day shooting 11-for-22 from three compared to Penn State’s inefficient 10-36 showing.
TINO TIME
Tino Malnati, a cult figure among Cats’ fans who has mostly been utilized in a reserve role, stole the spotlight early in his senior day. The last remaining member from the 2017 March Madness team got the starting nod, then picked up three rebounds in the game’s first four minutes. Fellow backup Ryan Greer also saw extended action, serving as the Cats’ primary ball handler for much of the first half and scoring a couple of buckets in the post. NU needed all of its rotation, reserves included, to earn their third Big Ten victory.

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