CHICAGO — Penn State basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry knew he wanted Jalen Pickett to have the ball in the final minute of overtime against Northwestern.
Seth Lundy had other ideas.
With Penn State down one and Shrewsberry calling for Lundy to dish the ball off, Lundy saw a brief opening in Northwestern’s defense and fired from deep.
His shot swished cleanly, lifting Penn State to a two-point lead it held for a 67-65 win.
It wasn’t a panic play. It was the result of nights of hard work coming to fruition.
“Seth works on his game more than anybody,” Shrewsberry said, calling it a ‘great audible’ on Lundy’s part. “Our GAs, Taaj Ridley and Josh Townsend are in the gym with those guys nonstop, and Seth has probably shot that shot millions of times.
“He was feeling it. He was confident. When he looked, and kind of like backed up, I was like — you know, I felt good about it either way because he’s made tough shots like that. If he didn’t make it, we were going to get a stop and come down and score again.”
Lundy, who led Penn State with 16 points, knew that an opportunity like this wouldn’t likely come around again. Penn State (21-12) had problems with Northwestern’s aggressive defense, committing a season-high 15 turnovers. Given the dangers of dishing the ball and risking a steal from the Wildcats (21-11), Lundy decided the safest move was to bet on himself against Northwestern’s Boo Buie.
“It’s nothing new for me,” Lundy said. “I felt like I’ve been doing it my whole career. It was a great opportunity. I felt like I was trying to front him anyway, and I didn’t want to have a turnover; I felt like getting up a shot was better than nothing. I just (isolated) him, and that was the outcome.”
Like Thursday night, Penn State found itself tied with its foe with seven minutes to play, but the similarities ended there. Against Illinois, Penn State took control of the game with solid shooting, barely missing an opportunity. Against Northwestern, Penn State had to battle with its defense.
Penn State basketball gave up 66 looks at the basket, but Northwestern couldn’t hit much of anything. Even though Northwestern took 15 more shots than Penn State, the teams finished with the same number of converted field goals.
“I’ll give credit to Penn State,” Buie, who led the Wildcats with 16 points but shot 6-for-17, said. “They did a good job of trying to get the ball out of Chase (Audige) and I’s hands. I think, just as a team, including Chase and I, we just didn’t make shots overall. We missed a couple shots that we usually make, and if we had made those, we would have gained a little bit of a lead, and things probably would have went our way.”
Ironically, Northwestern’s last two attempts from deep came on possessions where Penn State’s defense was more lucky than good. With Penn State leading 66-64, it left Buie open for 3. But the Northwestern star missed, allowing Penn State to snag the rebound and force a Northwestern foul. On the next possession, Buie’s missed free throw came out to Audige, giving him a 3-point look to try to win the game.
That was a wild finish. 😱#B1GMBBT pic.twitter.com/hjuoVehbJz
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 11, 2023
“I was looking at it, and my heart dropped for a second,” Pickett said. “When it popped out, I was full of joy.”
So were the rest of the Nittany Lions, who likely punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament for good. On a night when Penn State was far from a well-oiled machine, the team’s belief in itself allowed it to grind out another crucial win.
“We weren’t at our best, and you could tell early, like in warmups,” Shrewsberry said. “Like our coaches are like, ‘I don’t know if we have it tonight. Last night was really emotional in how we won and the quick turnaround.’
“But they dug deep, and they found it.”
Shrewsberry loves it.
I’m just having a blast. I’m having a blast, pinching myself. Man, we get a chance to play Saturday. We’re in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, like a tournament I’ve been watching as a little kid, and now I get a chance to coach it.”
And for the first time since 2018, Penn State basketball can play in them.