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Five Takeaways From Penn State’s Win Over Northwestern

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Jalen Pickett

CHICAGO — Penn State earned its fourth straight win on Friday night, besting Northwestern 67-65 in overtime to reach its first Big Ten semifinal since 2018. The Nittany Lions face Indiana at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, with the winner to meet Purdue or Ohio State for the Big Ten title.

Before that game arrives, here’s a quick look back at what transpired Friday night.


It would take something crazy from the selection committee for Penn State to fall short now. The Nittany Lions didn’t play well on offense in this game, but they grinded the game out by defending. If Northwestern had been anything decent from the field, Penn State goes home not feeling completely secure in its future. Instead, the Nittany Lions get to play a semifinal game knowing they have almost certainly done the job for the NCAA tournament.

Ironically, it’s questionable as to whether Penn State wants to have that pressure removed. The Nittany Lions have mostly played their best basketball since losing to Maryland. Other than the Rutgers game, Penn State has looked complete, leading to coach Micah Shrewsberry brushing aside suggestions that the Nittany Lions could exhale.

“We don’t want to,” he said. “We’re having fun, like I said. Like it’s fun to go out there every single day with these guys. It’s fun to prepare with them. It’s fun to like just being there eating dinner together at night. We don’t want this thing to end. We never want this thing to end; we want to play as long as possible.”


For most of the season, Penn State has taken care of the basketball. On Friday night, they didn’t. The Nittany Lions nearly threw away their semifinal opportunity, as they committed a season-high 15 turnovers. They also tied their season low with six assists, resulting in their worst assist-to-turnover ratio of the year by a mile.

And yet, this didn’t become a repeat of the Virginia Tech game, which Penn State threw away with 14 turnovers. The Nittany Lions didn’t make good decisions with the basketball, but they made up for it with solid defense.

“We’re showing that we can win in a couple different ways,” Shrewsberry said. “We can go bombs away from three. We can be a great offensive team. But you can’t have that night every night, and here recently, our defense has been really good. If we’re not making shots, we can guard people and grind out some tough wins.”

Penn State will likely be delighted to see opponents that aren’t Northwestern over the next week-plus. In two matchups, the Wildcats have forced 25 turnovers.


As Illinois coach Brad Underwood mentioned again Thursday, Penn State’s the oldest Power 5 team in the nation. But on Friday, it was one of its youngest players, guard Kanye Clary, who stepped up for his team.

Other than a two-game stretch against Maryland and Illinois, Clary hasn’t had a big role in much of his freshman season. But with his older teammates struggling with the Northwestern defense, Shrewsberry decided to bring him in to change speeds on the Wildcats.

It worked, as Clary scored 11 points and steadied his team’s offense. In 19 minutes, he didn’t turn the ball over once.

“He’s growing and getting better. He was big time for us,” Shrewsberry said. “Ten big points for us, attacking the rim, getting baskets when we needed it. I think that steadied us and gave us confidence to continue to play. It gave me confidence to keep him in in tough situations down the stretch.”


For the second night in a row, Penn State was far from the crowd’s favorite at the United Center. Both nights, that was understandable given the Nittany Lions’ opponent. On Thursday, Penn State faced Illinois, far and away the most popular college basketball team in Chicago. The Illini fans booed everything navy blue all night, including the entertainment during media timeouts.

Friday against Northwestern wasn’t quite that bad, but it still wasn’t a Penn State crowd. Northwestern had a sizable following as “Chicago’s Big Ten team”, and the Indiana fans didn’t help when they arrived. The Hoosiers’ fans joined with Northwestern fans in backing the Wildcats, creating another road atmosphere.

Saturday’s crowd should be more even. Even though Penn State now has to face that sizable Hoosier contingent, the Nittany Lions should benefit from the presence of the Purdue fans. The Boilermakers were already inclined to root against rival Indiana anyway. Given Shrewsberry’s Purdue background, Purdue fans will likely have no problem throwing their support behind the Nittany Lions after their game with Ohio State ends.


This year, the Big Ten has gotten a jump on the madness, as the league’s depth has been on full display. Out of 10 games played at the United Center, seven have seen the lower seed emerge victorious. Some of those haven’t been surprising, given that just three games separated second-place Northwestern from 12th-place Wisconsin. But very few people expected Ohio State to still be here on Saturday, yet the Buckeyes have three wins as a lower seed.

To the league’s coaches, it’s a product of how each team has made the others better.

“We’ve now played 21 Big Ten games,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “It’s a grind. It’s fun, but it’s a grind. The level of competition, the physicality, the coaches you face, the players you face. I think it’s going to be exciting for all of us as Big Ten teams. Nine, ten, whatever teams get in, to kind of say, you know what, let’s put the Big Ten on the back burner, and let’s go out and see if we can make some noise against the rest of the nation.”

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