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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Men’s Basketball: Northwestern relies on physicality and aggressiveness in 68-63 win over Penn State

Henry Frieman/The Daily Northwestern
Graduate student guard Ryan Langborg attempts a layup.

Just over a month ago, Northwestern finished off a tenacious Penn State squad in a hard-fought 76-72 win –– despite turning the ball over a season-high 18 times.

Heading into Sunday’s matinee rematch against the Nittany Lions (12-12, 6-7 Big Ten), coach Chris Collins and the Wildcats (17-7, 8-5 Big Ten) needed a mix of physicality and creativity to combat their opponent’s conference-leading 9.1 steals per game.

“They’re very difficult to play against,” Collins said. “You can’t run plays, you got to make plays. And that’s what Penn State makes you do.”

With a gritty game plan laid out, the ’Cats outlasted the Nittany Lions in a low-scoring affair, securing a 68-63 victory to close out a perfect two-game homestand.

Despite coming out with the win, it was a rough offensive showing for NU. Collins’ team shot at a cold 20-of-63 (31.7%) shooting clip for the game, its lowest mark this season.

Penn State’s stifling defense focused on limiting graduate student guard Boo Buie’s touches and swarming the guard whenever he got the ball. In the first half, Buie was held to just three points on 1-of-6 shooting.

“It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that teams are going to try to take Boo out of the game,” Collins said. “They’re going to trap him. They’re going to try to get the ball out of his hands. And the way you beat that is by the other guys stepping up.”

With Buie effectively taken out of the game by the defense, the rest of NU’s starting lineup rose to the occasion. Junior guard Brooks Barnhizer tallied a game-high nine points in the first half with senior center Matthew Nicholson and graduate student guard Ryan Langborg contributing six points apiece.

Barnhizer bore much of the ball-handling duty with Buie often covered and senior guard Ty Berry out with a knee injury — proving to be especially crucial against Penn State’s unrelenting press defense.

“We trust Boo so much with the ball, so I think it’s probably good for us to have a little bit when he’s not just the primary (ball handler),” Barnhizer said. “But I definitely think it helped add to our ability to beat the press and get to where we needed to get to.”

Collectively, the ’Cats shot just 28.6% from the field in the first period. Meanwhile, their defense limited the Nittany Lions to just 27 points on a 2-of-8 clip from beyond the arc as they entered the half up two points.

The second half began with NU starting off 0-of-5 from the field before Nicholson broke the drought with an and-one layup. Later, Buie was able to get the lid off the basket, scoring six points in only 90 seconds.

With shots still not falling down at an efficient rate, the ’Cats relied on the charity stripe as a main source of scoring. The squad finished with a season-high 22 made free throws on 27 attempts.

“Today we were much more aggressive, much more assertive,” Collins said. “We played through contact better, and we were able to find ourselves getting to the line on a night when we didn’t make a ton of threes.”

Once Buie’s 3-pointer took a three-point lead with 14:51 left in the game, NU never relinquished the lead. Penn State was able to bring it back within one point 10 minutes later, but a 7-0 run by the ’Cats essentially put the game away.

Buie ended with a team-high 15 points and six assists after collecting 12 second-half points. Barnhizer chipped in with 14 points, nine rebounds and four steals.

Despite the low-scoring performance, five different NU players put up double-digit scoring, which marked the first game this season that has happened.

The ’Cats also won the battle down low, out-rebounding their opponent by six and finishing with 18 second-chance points compared to the Nittany Lions’ three. Though they won each of its last three games by at least double figures, a hot Penn State squad was clamped down by Collins’ defensive scheme.

“I’m just proud of our guys because tonight we didn’t play offensively great at all,” Buie said. “We were able to still hold the team to (63) and grind out that win — and that really showed our toughness.”

Following two straight home wins, NU will have to prove that it can win on the road over its next two matchups — the first being a road bout against Rutgers Thursday. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lucaskim_15

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