Penn State vs. Northwestern Preview
A forgettable afternoon against Michigan State is now in the rearview mirror as the Penn State Nittany Lions (15-14, 6-10) look to bounce back Thursday when Northwestern (18-11, 6-10) comes to town. Last time out, the Wildcats cruised past Rutgers 98-59 in Evanston, but they have lost six straight road games dating back to early January.
It will be a special night at the Bryce Jordan Center as seniors Brandon Taylor, Donovon Jack, Jordan Dickerson and Devin Foster will be honored before the game. Penn State still has one remaining home game vs. Illinois, but it will take place over spring break for students, so the decision was made to honor the players early.
Big Ten Tournament seeding is on the line, as these two teams are currently tied for ninth place in the standings. Nebraska and Illinois lurk not far behind, each a game or less behind the Wildcats and Nittany Lions. The top 10 teams at the end of the regular season avoid playing in the first round in Indianapolis, putting the winner of this game in great position to lock up a first round bye.
Taylor has been the most reliable weapon for Penn State, pacing the team in both points (16.1 ppg) and rebounds (6.5 rpg), but he struggled mightily in his last game against the Spartans. He tallied only two points in 19 minutes of action, spending a large part of the game on the bench in foul trouble. He was one of three Penn State players to foul out as well as being the victim of a questionable offensive foul call in the first half which led to a Patrick Chambers ejection.
Shep Garner and Payton Banks have stepped up all year when Taylor hasn’t played well, and they may have to do the same if Taylor has a lackluster performance against the Wildcats. Garner has scored 20+ points in three straight games, and Banks is starting to find his stroke from beyond the arc, hitting four of five in East Lansing.
Northwestern shot a dismal 3-26 from three in the previous meeting against Penn State, but Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh have consistently been able to put up points as well as distribute opportunities to their teammates. Demps leads the Wildcats at 15.7 points per game while McIntosh is the team leader in assists at 6.8 per game. Center Alex Olah is also a threat, averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds, and he could turn into a major issue if the Penn State big men run into some early foul trouble.
Prediction: Penn State 70, Northwestern 64
Taylor will have an inspiring performance in front of the Senior Night crowd, leading all scorers with 30+ points. Jack will come up big as well, picking up a double-double to continue his hot streak at home. Northwestern won’t be quite as horrendous from downtown and the combination of Demps and McIntosh on the perimeter will heat up late to make the game interesting, but Penn State will pull out a win to give them seven in conference, the most in the Chambers era.
Tip off is set for 9 pm on ESPNU and will also be broadcasted live on ComRadio. Senior Night festivities begin approximately 30 minutes before the game.
Tom Shively is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @t_shives.