Senior Strength Not Enough, Penn State Falls to Northwestern 71-61
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Senior night didn't exactly go as planned for head coach Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lions Thursday night. Even though Brandon Taylor consistently plays bigger than his 6’6” stature entails, Penn State(15-14, 6-11 Big Ten) played small and fell 71-61 to Northwestern (18-11, 7-10 Big Ten), as the offense struggled to find its rhythm.
“I have a love/hate relationship with senior night,” Chambers said. “It’s too emotional, and I felt like the first 20 minutes that’s how we played. Too many emotions, too many ‘This is it’ moments.”
Seniors Donovon Jack, Brandon Taylor, Jordan Dickerson, Devon Foster, and sophomore Shep Garner started for the Nittany Lions.
With eight first-half turnovers, Northwestern was able to capitalize in transition and generate an offense both beyond the arc and in the paint. The Wildcats shot 55 percent from 3-point range and had 20 points down low.
Despite two early three’s from Garner and Taylor, Penn State struggled to keep possession. Northwestern was able to answer with two threes of their own and take an early 8-5 lead with 16:37 left to play.
That lead only grew larger as foul trouble, sloppy possessions and unforced turnovers plagued the offense and defense.
Redshirt senior Tre Demps had a career first half for the Wildcats, shooting 8-11 for 19 points, while Bryant McIntosh managed to chip in with seven. Demps and McIntosh combined for 40 points on the night, and McIntosh became the only player in Northwestern history with 200 assists in a single season.
“Our schemes were good and we were in a great rhythm the first half against the zone,” said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins. “Tre had a great look to him. He’s a senior with a senior sense of urgency.”
The frustration with Demps for Penn State was evident in the final minutes of first half play, as the Nittany Lions were scoreless for the final 5:07 on the clock. Northwestern went into the half leading 42-27.
“Demps came out firing,” Taylor said. “We had a tough time guarding him and our defense needs to be better.”
Second half play started off much like the first, with the Nittany Lions rushing possessions and forcing plays in the paint. Penn State trailed by as many as 20.
Freshman Josh Reaves, who had a silent first half, picked up two early fouls with 18:03 left to play, but followed with an emotional performance for the Nittany Lions. He put 11 points on the boards, going 4-8 from the field.
Despite being down by 20 with 12:32 left to play, a Taylor three lit a spark for the Penn State offense. Reaves and Isaiah Washington added to the scoring to bring the Nittany Lions within seven with 9:50 left to play.
A Northwestern turnover at half court fell into the hands of Taylor, who was able to execute in transition and bring Penn State within eight. Payton Banks hit a critical three that erupted the crowd and changed the pace of Chamber’s offense. The Nittany Lions went on 21-6 run over a 5:16 span, and came within four with 5:57 left to play.
In what were the most critical three minutes of the game, the Nittany Lions were unable to execute on forced turnovers, and the momentum began to shift back in the hands of Northwestern. Senior Jordan Dickerson, who managed only six rebounds, committed a costly turnover, while Reaves and Taylor committed two fouls.
“We have to be on the floor,” Taylor said. “I got into foul trouble and so did Reaves, and we both need to be on the floor. That can’t happen.”
Northwestern was able to pull away in the closing minutes, executing at the free throw line, ending the Nittany Lions senior night on a sour note.
The seniors will have their final opportunity to pull out a victory in the Bryce Jordan Center this Sunday, against the Illinois Fighting Illini. Tip-off is set for noon.
Tia Pattillo is a sophomore majoring in psychology neuroscience. To contact her, email email@example.com.