Game Grades: Men’s Basketball vs. Northwestern

Story posted March 10, 2020 in Sports, CommRadio by Matt Noah

No. 20 Penn State was hoping to close out its regular season with a win in blowout fashion, just like their previous matchup against the Northwestern Wildcats in State College. Instead, the Nittany Lions were dealt their fifth defeat in six games, 80-69. The team is now faced with uncertainty as it prepares for the Big Ten tournament. Let’s hand out some game grades for Penn State’s performance versus Northwestern.

Offense: D+

Offensively, Saturday’s performance against the Wildcats was an absolute mess. Penn State opened the game shooting 1-for-12 from the field to go down by a score of 15-2 and set the stage for a streaky shooting performance.

Following the extremely slow start, the offense got moving. After back-to-back 3-pointers from sophomore guard Myles Dread, who had 11 first half points, the team rallied back, and at halftime, the score was tied 34-34.

The Nittany Lions did have the lead at several points in the game, but they could not hang on. At the most important time in the second half, it was Northwestern that pulled ahead while the Penn State offense stalled. A 17-2 run for the Wildcats down the stretch secured the victory.

Senior forward Lamar Stevens led the team with 18 points but on poor 5-of-20 shooting, and his free-throw performance did not help the team much, as he went 6-for-9 from the line. Once again, the Penn State offense was too reliant on isolating its key player by putting him in possessions where Stevens could not get quality shots.

Junior forward John Harrar was a bright spot for the Nittany Lions in absence of senior forward Mike Watkins, who did not play due to violating team rules. Harrar had 12 points and 14 rebounds while also hitting important free throws, shooting 4-for-5 from the stripe.

Overall, the Nittany Lions shot an abysmal 33% from the field and 28% from beyond the arc. The team’s lack of shooting consistency allows the Nittany Lions to either pull ahead or get left in the dust. This is an issue that will be tough to solve if Penn State cannot figure out new offensive strategies for the upcoming Big Ten tournament.

Defense: C

Overall, the defense was solid, but Northwestern torched Penn State on more than a couple occasions. The loss can be attributed to the offense stalling, but the defense having an average performance did not help the Nittany Lions stay in the game.

The Wildcats shot 46% from the field but shot an even more impressive 50% from 3-point range on 22 attempts. The close-outs from Penn State’s defense were not there soon enough to put pressure on the Northwestern shooters for most of those attempts.

Northwestern’s offense went on runs to start and end the game, with the margin from the first seven minutes and the last seven minutes combined being a lopsided score of  29-15 in favor of the home team.

The Wildcats were led by Miller Kopp, who led the team with 21 points on effective 8-for-14 shooting and a career high 5-for-9 from beyond the arc. Kopp had a performance that he will never forget.

Coaching: D

Penn State might be the streakiest team in the NCAA this year. Following a streak winning seven of eight games, the Nittany Lions lost three in a row, before going on an eight-game win streak. Now the Nittany Lions have closed out the season by losing five of their final six games.

Northwestern is at the bottom of the Big Ten conference, getting only its third Big Ten win of the season by defeating Penn State. Maybe the Nittany Lions will get hot again and go on a run just in time for the NCAA Tournament, but it is impossible to tell.

Head coach Pat Chambers needs to find a way to make Penn State’s offense more balanced and less reliant on isolation possessions for Stevens. Teams like Michigan State and Iowa, despite having stars like Cassius Winston and Luka Garza, allow their offenses to flow more fluidly. Their coaches find ways for everyone to make plays and score.

Still, this is Lamar Stevens’ team, as the senior will be looking to lead the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2001, so time will tell if Chambers can find a way to appease his appetite for shots while also finding balance with the rest of the offense.

Chambers does deserve credit for not playing Watkins for a violation of team rules, even if this absence came back to bite Penn State.

Heading into the postseason, it is now or never for this team to catch a hot streak, fix its offense, and find ways to close out games in crunch time.

 

Matt Noah is a freshman majoring in journalism. To contact him, email matthewnoah29@gmail.com.