In a matchup between two teams beleaguered by star injuries and winless Big Ten starts, Northwestern defeated Penn State in a lopsided 70-54 victory on Thursday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
With two blowout losses to begin conference play, the Wildcats (10-6, 1-2 Big Ten) were expected to give the Nittany Lions (8-7, 0-3 Big Ten) a reasonable opportunity to pick up its first Big Ten victory.
However, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said the team could have been better prepared for the Wildcats and could have had a different attitude.
“We're a feel good team right now,” an emotional Chambers said. “My job is to tell them, ‘We grind, we're gritty, we play hard and that's the way it has to be this year.’”
While the season-ending Achilles injury to Penn State guard Tim Frazier on Nov. 18 caused concerns, as did the torn labrum Northwestern forward Drew Crawford suffered a few weeks ago.
The 6-foot-5 senior averaged 13.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game this year before aggravating an injury he sustained in September.
Regardless, the Wildcats were able to find scoring balance against the Lions with four players scoring 10 points or more, including 35 points between 6-foot-8 forward Jared Swopshire and crafty guard Dave Sobolewski.
Crisp passing by the Wildcats, who ranked second in the Big Ten in assists per game, also helped distribute the basketball and spread the floor.
"Usually the cream kind of rises to the top after the course of a bunch of games,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “…Any coach wants a team where the scoring balance is, you know, balanced.”
Even though they owned a 12-10 lead early, the Lions’ shooters went cold after the first four minutes and Northwestern capitalized.
Despite initially shooting 60 percent from the field, the Lions finished the last 12 minutes of the first half converting just two of 16 attempts.
Northwestern — ninth in the Big Ten in shooting percentage coming into the game — also chucked up 16 shots in the final 12 minutes, but saw nine of them fall including four 3-pointers.
And while Lions guard D.J. Newbill led with 16 second half points, a 15-point halftime deficit and missing easy looks proved too much to overcome.
“We've got two guys who think they can do it all,” Chambers said. “They can't. They need help.”