Northwestern to take on Penn State in Big Ten Tournament
By Maria Heim
Northwestern men’s basketball looks to continue its history-making streak on Friday at the Big Ten Tournament.
The No. 10 seed Penn State takes on the No. 2 seed Northwestern at 5:30 p.m. CST at the United Center.
The Wildcats secured their position in the Big Ten tournament after taking down Rutgers 65-63 at Jersey Mike’s Arena on Sunday. Thursday evening, the Nittany Lions defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, 79-76.
Northwestern head coach Coach Collins and the Wildcats finished the regular season with a 21-10 record – the second-most wins in a season in school history. Heading into conference tournament play, Collins reflected on how to best position the team.
“The one thing when you get into tournaments, because you have less prep time, you really have to stay true to what you do,” Collins said. “Certainly you game-plan, and you do what you can against the other team.”
Penn State defeated Northwestern in Evanston on March 1, 65-68. The ‘Cats forced thirteen Penn State turnovers and Chase Audige led the way with three steals for Northwestern.
But in overtime, Penn State’s Camren Wynter nailed a three with 0.7 seconds to go to propel the Nittany Lions to victory.
What to watch:
1. First half offensive efficiency
It will be imperative for Northwestern to gain a significant lead from the get go. Last time the two teams met, Northwestern held Penn State to just 24 points in the opening period – the Nittany Lions’ lowest first half output this season. But the Nittany Lions went on a 14-3 run during a 4:26 stretch late in the second half and completed the comeback in overtime.
2. The bench battle
Northwestern’s bench unit excelled last time out against Penn State, tallying 23 points to Penn State’s six. The bench’s stellar defensive performance was indicative of Northwestern’s overall improvement on defense this season. The ‘Cats allowed just 62.3 points per game during the regular season – a 7.6 point improvement over last year’s average of 69.9 points. Northwestern is limiting opponents to just 41.2% from the field, the second best of the Big Ten
3. Shining stars on both sides
The duo of Audige and Boo Buie remains a key ingredient for a Wildcat victory. Buie ranks sixth in the league in points and fifth in assists. Audige’s 74 steals tops the Big Ten and ranks eighth nationally.
Leading the Nittany Lions is First Team All-Big Ten honoree Jalen Pickett. He is the only player in the nation averaging over 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
This is Penn State Coach Micah Shrewsberry’s second season in Happy Valley. He has collected more Big Ten wins (17) than any Penn State coach in their first two seasons.
“We’re going to play as long as possible,” Shrewsberry said. “I’m having fun. I’m having a lot of fun coaching these guys. I think they’re having a lot of fun playing with each other.”
Northwestern and Penn State have met just four times in the Big Ten Tournament. The teams split those four matchups, but the Nittany Lions lead the all-time series 20-37.
The winner of Friday’s quarterfinal game advances to take on third-seeded Indiana or sixth-seeded Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Saturday.
Margaret Flemming and Andrew Neville have the call with tipoff set for 5:30 p.m. CST.