In the battle of the Big Ten's felines, Northwestern won Thursday.
The Cats shot 63 percent from the field in the first half and got a combined 40 points from Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh to power a 71-61 win over the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley.
Northwestern led by as many as 20, only for Penn State to whittle that all the way down to four. But that hot-shooting first half proved enough to weather that second-half charge, giving the Cats their second straight victory.
It was actually the Lions who started the game with a 3-pointer, but McIntosh, Demps and Aaron Falzon connected on three straight triples before four minutes had passed to grab a lead. Demps and Gavin Skelly went back-to-back on 3s later in the half to make it a nine-point game, and eight straight Northwestern points in the final minute — part of a larger 12-2 run capped by McIntosh's first-half buzzer-beating jumper — sent the Cats to the break with a big 15-point edge.
Northwestern went 6-for-11 on 3-pointers in the first half and shot that spectacular 63 percent over the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Penn State shot just 35.7 percent in the period.
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Falzon opened the second half with a 3, and McIntosh's bucket three minutes after halftime gave the Cats their 20-point lead. The Lions followed that up with a 21-6 run to make it a five-point game with eight and a half minutes to play, and two Shep Garner free throws two and a half minutes later made it a four-point gap. But Northwestern rattled off nine straight points from there — three coming on a Demps three-point play and four coming on Skelly free throws — to send the lead back to double digits with three minutes to play, with more made free throws holding Penn State back.
The Cats finished with a 48.1-percent shooting mark on the game, making just eight shots in the second half, but they were also 10-for-13 from the free-throw line over the final 20 minutes. Northwestern also turned 13 Penn State turnovers into 23 points.
Demps scored 23 points to lead the Cats, with McIntosh adding 17. Falzon finished with nine points, and Skelly and Dererk Pardon each had eight off the bench.
Brandon Taylor led the Lions with 17 points, while Garner scored 13 and Josh Reaves had 11.
The win sent Northwestern to 19-11 overall and 7-10 in the Big Ten. The Cats finish their regular-season schedule with a game against Nebraska on Sunday.
After winning three of four, Penn State has dropped back-to-back games, this loss sending its record to 15-15 overall and 6-11 in the conference. The Lions' final regular-season game comes Sunday against Illinois.