Nothing was falling from 3-point range for the Wildcats on Saturday night.
Northwestern was freezing cold from behind the arc, making just three of the 26 long-range shots it hoisted in a 73-62 loss to Penn State that dramatically impacted the Cats' quest to make their first NCAA tournament in program history.
Penn State led almost the entire way, using a 15-2 run in the first half to turn a five-point Northwestern advantage into a 10-point Penn State lead. The margin was just seven points at halftime, somewhat astounding considering the Cats shot an abysmal 28.1 percent from the field and went 0-for-12 from 3-point range over the first 20 minutes.
The Nittany Lions used an 8-0 burst in the second half to turn a nine-point edge into a big 17-point lead, and it reached a game-high 18 shortly thereafter. Tre Demps ended the oh-fer from 3 with a long ball at the 10:21 mark of the second half, and back-to-back triples from Demps and Aaron Falzon reduced the margin to 11 with under four minutes to play. Northwestern made the end of the game interesting, those two 3s the start of a 10-2 run that got the Cats within single digits and Penn State not making a basket in the game's final eight minutes. But the Lions did go 12-for-16 from the free-throw line following the conclusion of that 10-2 spurt, holding off any charge the Cats had in them.
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Thanks to a much better 48.6-percent clip from the field in the second half, Northwestern boosted its shooting mark to 38.8 percent for the game. The Cats finished just 12 percent from 3 at 3-for-26. Northwestern did force 13 Penn State turnovers and turned them into 12 points, plus the Cats scored 38 points in the paint. But the Lions were not cold from 3-point range, going 9-for-21. And Penn State also held a 42-34 rebounding edge.
Demps finished with a game-high 22 points. Bryant McIntosh recorded his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 assists, while Dererk Pardon added 12 points, as well.
Brandon Taylor led Penn State with 19 points, while Donovan Jack had 14 and Payton Banks had 10.
Northwestern dropped to 15-4 on the season and 3-3 in conference play. A loss to the Lions is bad news for the Cats' tourney hopes, as Northwestern is still fighting for national respectability following a 12-1 non-conference schedule absent of impressive wins. A win over Wisconsin earlier this week was the kind of win that would start earning the Cats a little more recognition, but a loss to Penn State has the opposite effect, as the Lions are viewed as one of the Big Ten's lower-quality teams. Plus, Northwestern has a brutal stretch of games coming up next — at Maryland, at Indiana, home against Michigan State and at Iowa — and it's not difficult to envision the type of in-conference losing streak that buried Chris Collins' teams during his first two seasons.
Penn State rebounded from back-to-back losses with the win, moving to 11-8 overall and 2-4 in conference play. Next up is a home game against Wisconsin on Thursday.