The contest went down to the wire, but the Nittany Lions made one more play.
In a game Northwestern desperately needed amidst a six-game losing streak, the Wildcats (6-8, 3-7 Big Ten) fell 81-78 to Penn State (5-6, 2-5) Saturday night after sophomore guard Chase Audige missed a contested attempt at a game-tying three with two seconds left.
Despite strong performances from junior forward Miller Kopp (19 points) and sophomore point guard Boo Buie (18 points) and a strong overall shooting night (49.2% FG, 42.3% 3PT), NU’s offense fell flat in the final three minutes. It hit just one of its last eight attempts, as the Nittany Lions overcame sixteen turnovers to deal the Wildcats their seventh straight loss.
Penn State played its fourth game in seven days and was coming off a win over Rutgers, and its fatigue showed. Both teams played with good energy but sloppiness dominated, especially early. Northwestern competed in a back and forth battle and held a four-point lead with 4:24 left, but ultimately never one big enough to hold off PSU.
The ‘Cats started cold, missing their first four shots, all of which were threes, as Penn State forced its way into the lane and took an early lead. A Pete Nance dunk followed by a transition three from Miller Kopp put NU up 5-4 at the first media timeout.
Once NU took the lid off the basket, it stayed hot from the field. Robbie Beran and Boo Buie then both hit from deep as part of a run in which the Wildcats hit seven of their next ten shots.
As the teams began to find their offenses, they began to turn the ball over as well. The two squads combined for 21 first-half turnovers. Northwestern also continued to commit fouls, as Nance’s second foul put PSU into the bonus with nine minutes left in the first half.
The teams continued to trade baskets, and NU led 21-20 with just over seven minutes before halftime. But turnovers continued to hamper the ‘Cats and Nittany Lions before Penn State ripped off a 7-0 run and never trailed for the rest of the half as NU went through a field goal drought of 4:39.
Penn State extended its lead to as many as eight, but NU showed good resolve in not letting the game get away. Buie hit two more triples to even the score at 33 in the final minute of the half before Myreon Jones scored five straight, including a buzzer-beater to give PSU a 38-33 lead.
Kopp keyed a 10-0 run for Wildcats by hitting his second three of the game, and Buie followed suit with his fourth make from downtown. They took a 45-44 lead at the under-16 media timeout.
But Penn State punched right back with an 8-0 run of its own to claim a five-point lead, and that back-and-forth feeling remained down the stretch. Every bucket by one side cued a response from the other as Penn State, after NU took a one-point lead, held 60-58 advantage with 10 minutes left.
Neither team built a lead bigger than four for nearly eleven minutes, as things remained close as time wound down. NU held the slimmest of leads, 73-72, with 3:10 left before the Nittany Lions mounted one final surge.
PSU took a six-point lead after Jamari Wheeler nailed a three, but Northwestern wouldn’t go away, as Pete Nance drained a corner three with 35 seconds left, and the Nittany Lions missed three free throws to keep the door open.
Kopp made two free throws to bring the score to 79-78 with 12 seconds left, but Izaiah Brockington, who led all scorers with 21 points, made two foul shots to pad the PSU lead to three before NU drew up a play for Chase Audige. The guard, who was just 2-for-10 shooting, took an off-balance attempt for the tie that missed the rim right before time expired.
The ‘Cats have eight days to think about this loss, as they have an extended break before taking on Rutgers next Sunday at home.