Men’s Basketball: Penn State catches fire late to down Northwestern, 67-60

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Chirag Bachani/The Daily Northwestern

Ty Berry takes a three. The sophomore was one of three Northwestern players in double figures in the Wildcats’ loss to Penn State Friday.

Lawrence Price, Assistant Sports Editor

Although it secured a win against Nebraska Tuesday, Northwestern’s inability to separate itself from the Cornhuskers — who it led by only six at halftime — won’t work against better teams. 

Flashing forward to Friday, the Wildcats (13-14, 6-12 Big Ten) found themselves in the same boat versus Penn State (12-13, 7-10 Big Ten), entering the interlude with a six-point lead. This time, though, NU was unable to find the same result as its contest from earlier in the week, losing 67-60.

There are many areas to point to, but the main one is simple — Penn State shot better than the Cats throughout the second half. Although PSU’s overall shooting percentage (41.5%) was only about 5% higher than the Wildcats (36.7%), there was a drastic difference in the home team’s shooting in the two 20-minute periods. 

In the first half of play, a combination of bucket struggles and seven turnovers resulted in the Nittany Lions shooting 26.7% from the field and 23.5% behind the arc. NU’s stifling defense didn’t allow any fast break points. Penn State’s leading scorer at halftime was Sam Sessoms with eight points, six of them coming before the 12-minute mark.

The second half was a different story, though, as Penn State looked like a new team. Even with seven turnovers once again, the Nittany Lions shot 60.9% from the field and 56.3% from deep. Although NU nearly shot 40% in the second 20-minute period, Penn State’s dominance overwhelmed and outshined the Cats’ offensive success. As a result, five of its players ended with double figures in points to NU’s three.

Alongside the buckets, a major reason for Penn State’s success came from both teams’ scoring droughts. A second half filled with one- to two-minute increments of no scoring from either team was highlighted early on in the half, where no points were put on the board from three and half minutes into the second until freshman guard Julian Roper II’s three broke the silence nearly three minutes later. Holding a three-point lead at the time, NU missed all four of their shots, while PSU couldn’t knock down their only attempt.

Even though neither team scored during these phases, when a team did build an offensive run, it struck deep. When it was a one-point game near the four-minute mark, junior guard Boo Buie, junior forward Robbie Beran and redshirt junior Chase Audige all missed their shot attempts, whereas Penn State only missed one. Following Audige’s miss, though, the Nittany Lions’ Dallion Johnson knocked down a three, with a missed three by senior forward Pete Nance, leading to another three by Penn State’s Myles Dread.

From there, Buie took another three and missed it, opening the door for Sessoms to hit a second-chance three pointer and Penn State’s lead to 10 with nearly 1:30 left in the contest. The Nittany Lions outrebounded the Cats on the offensive end by six, allowing opportunities like the late-game shot by Semmons, and grabbed 12 more boards than them overall. This difference gave PSU more chances to strike gold, while also limiting the Cats opportunity to do so, controlling the rebounding battle on the defensive end as well.

NU’s lackluster performances in crucial moments, especially while holding a lead, have controlled the program’s entire 2022 campaign. Of course, elite teams in the Big Ten and across the country are able to overcome adversity easily, such as No. 4 Purdue (which the Cats lost 70-64 to in the second matchup), No. 13 Wisconsin (lost by six) and No. 15 Illinois (lost by 10 points combined this season). However, close games against lower-tier Big Ten teams, like Penn State, are essential contests to win.

The Wildcats have now lost 12 of their 16 games determined by single digits. Friday’s loss to Penn State once again showcased the team’s penchant for second-half shutdowns — this time because it was unable to stop its opponent’s offensive attack.

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