What little hope was left for Northwestern’s NCAA tournament quickly evaporated Sunday in Happy Valley, as the Wildcats lost to Penn State in a truly discouraging fashion, 65-41.
Turning point | 17 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the second half
A lethargic first-half effort in which the Wildcats scored just 15 points somehow only left Northwestern down nine at the halfway mark. The Nittany Lions’ host generosity, unfortunately, did not extend very far into the second half.
Down 12 early in the second half, Drew Crawford received the ball in the low post, put on a couple moves, then clanked a lay-up off the rim — just one of the many shots that never seemed to fall for the Wildcats. In this particular instance, Penn State took advantage with authority, with a Jeff Brooks outlet pass setting up Tim Frazier for a nifty fast-break layup. The basket thoroughly demoralized a Wildcat team that desperately needed a fast start to the half, and Coach Bill Carmody’s subsequent timeout was to no avail: The Nittany Lions were off and running on a 14-2 run that would put the game out of reach.
Stat of the game | Northwestern shoots 2-of-21 from beyond the 3-point arc
Cold streaks are a fact of life in basketball; sometimes, absolutely nobody can get hot shooting from downtown, and you just have to keep plugging to finally find the shot that breaks the slump. There are, however, some days when the shots are simply not going to fall. In those instances, the team and the coach have to take a hint. Yet in some ways, the hallmark of this year’s team has been an inability to adjust. Having missed their first nine 3-point attempts going into halftime, somehow Carmody and company didn’t get the message. Senior guard Juice Thompson, usually the most intelligent player on the court, would heave up seven misses without success before the game was through. John Shurna had the courtesy to adjust his game after just two bricks, with a modicum of success on the inside. The rest of the team combined to shoot 2-of-12, with JerShon Cobb the only player to hit from outside.
Hero of the game | Talor Battle
It has become rather excruciating for the Northwestern faction to watch Talor Battle play, as he continually wills his team to victory while our own potent scorer, John Shurna, struggles mightily through multiple injuries. With that in mind, Sunday’s Nittany Lion victory had to be the worst of all, with Battle becoming the second Penn State player to ever surpass 2,000 career points. Battle’s 19 points were a model of efficiency: He shot 7-of-9 from the field and a sparkling 4-of-5 from 3-point range, including a particularly spectacular bomb in the second half that was closer to the half-court line than the arc.
Frighteningly enough, it was a below-average performance for Battle, who has sustained a 20.4 points per game average so far this season (ranked just behind Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson for first in the Big Ten). Following Sunday’s masterpiece, the senior guard is just a Welsh-Ryan Arena win away from cementing his legacy as a premier Wildcat-killer by finishing up his collegiate career with a 6-0 record against Northwestern. Chances are he gets it.
Where to improve | Fast starts
Sunday’s loss was yet another heart-crushing effort in which nothing seemed to go right for the Wildcats. We could easily single out the abysmal 3-point shooting and the team’s refusal to move the ball inside, the rebounding deficit we suffered even against a similarly-sized team (31-20 in Penn State’s favor) or the fact that we got just eight points from our bench. Fortunately, all of those things coalesced nicely into a single factor: the Wildcats simply have a habit of coming out of the locker room flat.
In the first half, the Wildcats had the good fortune of going up against a similarly anemic Penn State team. Even so, the Wildcats made just two field goals in the first five minutes, and were unable to take advantage of Penn State’s worst stretch of basketball all day. In the second half, however, the lack of fire was simply inexcusable. With his team down just nine despite a disappointing first period, and staring de facto elimination from the NCAA tournament race in the face, that Carmody sent out such a lifeless team cannot go unnoticed. The Wildcats were down nine at the start of the second half; they would be down 20 after five minutes had elapsed. What else needs to be said?