It sure wasn’t pretty at times, but Northwestern left University Park with the one thing it needed: a victory.
A loss to Penn State, who sits at the bottom of the Big Ten with Nebraska, would have been the ultimate death knell for Northwestern’s shot at their first ever NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats led by as much as 9 points in the second half of a back-and-forth contest that saw six ties and four lead changes.
Considering the circumstances, a loss after being up by so much late in the game would have been devastating for the program. However, the 67-66 win is one Bill Carmody and crew will definitely take as the regular season wraps up on Saturday.
5 – John Shurna’s blocks. All the publicity around Northwestern’s all-time scoring leader has surrounded his, well, scoring. But Shurna’s biggest improvement this season has been on the defensive end. This was his second 5-block game of the season and he ranks second in the conference with 1.8 per game.
3 – Steals by JerShon Cobb. The sophomore guard now has eight takeaways in his three games with significant minutes since returning from a nagging injury that kept him out for most of the season. His offensive game has not yet returned to form but his impact on defense makes the Wildcats a very dangerous team, should they reach the NCAAs.
40 – Penn State points in the paint. Northwestern knocked down 15 of 29 threes to counteract their opponent’s success inside but the ease with which the Nittany Lions scored down low at points was cause for concern, even in a win. Point guard Tim Frazier consistently worked his way into the key against the 1-3-1 zone, dumping the ball off to Jon Graham and Ross Travis, who combined for 20 points. This is a scary number with Jared Sullinger coming to town on Wednesday.
Play of the game:
John Shurna’s game winning free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining. Down by one with 14 seconds to play, Penn State freshman forward Jon Graham missed both of his free throws and Northwestern did not take a timeout after corralling the rebound, despite having three to burn. Graham deflected Shurna’s turnaround jumper but also got a piece of his arm, a controversial call that sent the senior to the charity stripe, where he calmly own the game.
It was a call that led to Penn State head coach Pat Chambers charging at the referee from his team’s bench in a rage after the final buzzer sounded, before being restrained by an assistant coach. As we have learned this season, Chambers can be quite intimidating when he’s angry.
Sixth man of the game:
The 8:00 start. That’s an 8:00 start CENTRAL TIME, being that the local tip off was at 9:00. Who schedules this stuff?
Where does Northwestern stand?
Despite all of the doom and gloom surrounding the program after their overtime collapse against Michigan on Tuesday, Northwestern is still alive in the tournament hunt. As the graphic that ESPNU continually flashed during Saturday’s game stated, Northwestern has no “bad losses” this season. Illinois and Minnesota’s late season woes make losses to each a potential black mark on the resume, but Northwestern has since avenged each of those defeats.
No. 9 Ohio State comes to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday night looking vulnerable, having lost three of their last five. The Buckeyes shelled Northwestern 87-54 when the two teams opened up the Big Ten season on December 28, so a strong Wildcat showing could prove how far this team has come.