Northwestern holds on to beat Penn State 71-61

Half that game was a breeze.

The other half was a struggle.

Northwestern rode its 42-27 first half edge to an eventual 71-61 win.  Northwestern was led, once again, by their senior Tre Demps, who had 19 at the break and finished with 23 points. His barrage encapsulated what was a just about perfect first half for Northwestern. They ran away and hid, but Penn State would fight to make it interesting in the second half.

Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner knocked down enough outside shots to close the Northwestern lead to just 4 with 6 minutes left. But Northwestern regathered itself and behind some nice takes by Gavin Skelly and some nice foul shooting, the Wildcats would put the game away.

Good times have a changeup when their primary scoring route isn’t available, like the way Michigan could take Northwestern off the bounce when the outside shots weren’t falling.  Penn State are not a good team. They kept shooting from the outside all game.  When it worked, they were a threat. When they weren’t, they shot themselves out of the game.

Here are some other thoughts.

Northwestern’s NIT hopes are OK

The route to the NIT hasn’t changed yet for Northwestern.  They won tonight, they’ll need to win against Nebraska, and they need (at least) one in the Big Ten Tournament.  This win doesn’t fix the weaknesses in the resume, but it avoids making another black mark. 

It should be said that the bubble did get a little smaller today. Patriot League top seed Bucknell lost to Bill Carmody’s Holy Cross squad, so Bucknell is the first team to automatically qualify for the NIT. An average year sees double figure teams automatically qualify, so Bucknell losing shouldn’t freak anyone out.  But Northwestern fans should keep an eye on that going forward.

Tre Demps is a monster

Tre Demps is very, very good.  Since his no show performance against Michigan State, he’s gone silly.  He’s been in double figures every game since and has scored more than 20 now 4 times.  As long as he’s scoring, Northwestern is going to be in just about every game they play.

He’s also going to be really hard to replace.

There will eventually be a much longer article about Demps’ potential replacements, but it should be at least touched on now.  Scottie Lindsey/Jordan Ash/Isiah Brown are going to have their hands full replacing not only the 35 minutes per contest he plays, but the incredible volume of shots the offense relies on him to take. That will probably be THE story next year.

I guess nothing is easy in the Big Ten

Give some credit to Penn State.  When it looked like Northwestern was going to cruise to the finish line, Penn State made it a game.  Their 3/4 court pressure wore on Northwestern and eventually the Wildcats broke down. Turnovers started hapening in the half-court, Penn State started hitting some more shots, and all of a sudden, Penn State was right back in it.

But Northwestern responded.  They buckled down on D, got to the foul line, and were able to keep the necks above water.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.  A similar performance should be more than enough to knock off Nebraska on Senior Night.

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