Penn State trailed 73-69 with 4:24 to go and was on the verge of suffering a brutal home loss to a Northwestern team that had dropped six in a row.
A loss would have been crushing for PSU, but the Nittany Lions went on a 10-0 run over a 4-minute span to grab a 79-73 lead. This 3-pointer by Jamari Wheeler with 1:10 to go capped that run.
— Penn State On BTN (@PennStateOnBTN) January 24, 2021
The final minute was crazy, and PSU nearly gave away the lead, missing the front end of a pair of 1-and-1s and playing sloppy basketball.
But Izaiah Brockington hit a pair of free throws with 7.4 seconds to go, and Northwestern missed a 3 at the buzzer as Penn State held on for an 81-78 win.
Penn State improved to 5-6 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. Northwestern dropped to 6-8 overall and 3-7 in the league.
Cory Giger’s quick takes on the game:
**This was a must-win game for Penn State, and the Lions found a way to get the job done late. There’s a lot to be said for that. This Penn State team can give just about anybody in the Big Ten a tough game, but the Lions must prove to themselves and everyone else that they can indeed find a way to pull out a victory when things get tough late.
Penn State was able to hold on late against Rutgers two days ago — after blowing most of a big lead — and this finish against Northwestern was impressive as the Lions used the big 10-0 run at the perfect time.
Now, what happened in the final minute wasn’t a thing of beauty for PSU, but it’s hard to blow a 6-point lead in the final 70 seconds, and the Lions were able to hang on.
**The Lions are 2-5 in the Big Ten, and they have some very tough games coming up. Every game in the Big Ten is tough. But the Lions have to take things one game at a time, and it all started with this homestand.
Penn State has won the first two games and now has one more against Wisconsin next Saturday. If the Lions can win that, they’d be back to 3-5, and anything close to .500 in the Big Ten this year could lead to an NCAA Tournament berth.
**This was supposed to be a four-game homestand, with Michigan visiting the BJC on Wednesday. But that game will be postponed because of this below:
#BREAKING: Michigan health department to suspend @UMichAthletics for two weeks after student athletes test positive for B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant. A student athlete was the first confirmed case of the new variant in the state.
— The Michigan Daily (@michigandaily) January 24, 2021
**I am a fan of teams fouling in the closing seconds when up 3 points. Jim Ferry chose not to do that with PSU up 81-78 after Brockington made two free throws with 7.4 seconds to go.
I just don’t understand coaches who choose not to foul in that spot. Foul Northwestern at, say, 3-4 seconds, and the Wildcats would have to purposely miss the second FT, get an offensive rebound and score to tie. The odds of all that happening are minuscule compared to a guy hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Northwestern had no timeouts, either, so that also worked in PSU’s favor if it had fouled with 3 seconds to go. It didn’t come back to bite PSU this time, but again, I just don’t like that philosophy or the math of letting a guy shoot a 3 with a 30 percent chance or better of tying the game.
“The foul and don’t foul, there’s arguments, people that tell me you’re crazy, you should always foul,” Ferry said.
“I’ve won games by fouling, and I’ve won games by not fouling. I’ve won games by fouling and lost games by not fouling.”
Ferry cited a Harvard study that showed it’s basically a 50-50 deal when it comes to fouling or not.
**Wheeler scored only 8 points, but his 3-pointer for the 79-73 lead was huge. Not only that he made it, but also that he took it. He’s not a great 3-point shooter, but he is the leader of the team, and you need your leader to make that kind of shot in a clutch situation.
**Brockington, who scored a game-high 21 points, is Penn State’s best player. That becomes more and more clear when you see all of the things he can do. Myreon Jones is a better pure shooter and leads the team in scoring, but Brockington can impact the game in more ways.
Brockington had a phenomenal one-handed jam in traffic on the break that was electrifying, plus he made the two big free throws to push the lead to 3 with 7.4 seconds left.
This is his SICK dunk:
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 24, 2021
I asked Brockington after the game where that dunk ranks among his all-time best. He said he actually hadn’t see it yet, but he did hear it being replayed on the video board when he was in the huddle. He then gave this terrific candid response.
“I wanted to look up so bad, but I didn’t want to be that guy watching his own highlight while the coach was talking,” Brockington said.
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