Men’s Basketball: After early success, Northwestern struggled to find shooting foothold in loss to Penn State


Tyler Keim/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern comes together for a group huddle before taking on Penn State. The Wildcats came up short in the contest, losing 74-70.

Lawrence Price, Assistant Sports Editor

With about 10 minutes remaining in the second half of Northwestern’s 74-70 loss Wednesday to Penn State, graduate forward Elyjah Williams finished inside the paint off junior guard Boo Buie’s dish, stretching NU’s lead up to 10 points, the second time the team held a double-digit lead. 

However, Penn State’s guard Dallion Johnson and forward Greg Lee’s back-to-back threes between another Williams layup quickly cut the deficit down to four points, enough to swing the momentum over to the Nittany Lions with 8:3 left to go.

Penn State continued on its run — a forward Seth Lundy midrange, guard Jalen Pickett turnaround jumper and a close shot by guard Sam Sessoms led to a ballgame knotted 57. NU, on the other hand, struggled to find the net, going scoreless for over four minutes after the Williams bucket.

In what turned into a back-and-forth game, the Cats (8-4, 1-2 Big Ten) were unable to contain the Nittany Lions’ (7-5, 2-2) offense, losing 74-70. The loss fell largely at the feet of their opponents’ successful late-game shot-making. 

“Their kids stepped up and made some really big shots when they needed to,” coach Chris Collins said. “Our defense in the second half of the last two games has kind of let us down.” 

After Williams’s layup with a little more than nine minutes to go, Penn State converted on nine of its 13 shots with two turnovers, including a critical four for four stretch. On the other end, NU hit seven of its 15 attempts with two turnovers — one while it was a two-point game and the other when it was tied.

The Cats led for 33 of the 40 minutes and were able to shoot nearly 50% from the field for the last quarter of the game, but the team could neither stop nor outshoot their opponent. Buie’s turnovers also gave the Nittany Lions’ hot offense another chance to succeed. 

Coach Chris Collins expressed the importance of finding a way to win in close games, as he has seen them do previously.

“For us, you got to get the stops when you need it and you got to make what I call winning plays, free throws, loose balls, step up, make a big shot, and then obviously get stops,” Collins said. “You’ve got to find a way if you want to have a successful season.”

Collins noted that he believed the team’s loose possessions began not before the four-minute mark, but instead in between the 10 and five-minute mark of the second half. He pointed to Pickett’s turnaround jumper, coming out of timeout and at the end of the shot clock, as a moment where he felt the team had good defensive possession up until the last second basket.

Penn State derived its victory from these critical baskets, even as many were well-contested. This included Lee, a 25% three point shooter, hitting a three in the early stage of their run, and Lundy, a 6-foot-6-inch forward, knocking down a contested three over 6-foot-10-inch senior forward Pete Nance. 

“You’ve got to give them credit, they made some pretty tough shots down the stretch,” junior forward Robbie Beran said. “They made some plays when it counted the most.”

The Cats’ deadeye badge was on tonight, as they shot 46.2% from deep to lead for the majority of the contest. But the group’s inability to close out the Nittany Lions nullified this outstanding performance.

Through the Wildcats’ last eight games, five of them have been decided by less than seven points, and the group has only found the win column once in these situations.  With more close games inevitably in their future, Collins expressed that they “need to be able to break through.”

“We’re just going to come tomorrow, get it back, just keep working, and prepare for Ohio State Sunday,” Buie said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @LPIII_TRES

Related Stories:

Rapid Recap: Penn State 74, Northwestern 70
Rapid Recap: No. 10 Michigan State 73, Northwestern 67
Rapid Recap: Northwestern 70, NJIT 52