27 February 2012

Northwestern 67 PENN STATE 66 (F)

The emotional roller coaster is getting into full swing.  On Saturday night Northwestern (17-11,7-9) mustered up all its ESPNU karma to sneak out of Penn State (12-17,4-12) with a one point win.  

NU spotted its hosts an 8 point lead in the first half by the 12 minute mark of the first half.  Then over the next 5 1/2 minutes NU got hot from the field and went on a 18-4 run.  There was an opportunity to extend the run over the final 5+ minutes of the half, but a combination of missed layups, missed free throws, and turnovers limited NU to just a 34-28 lead at halftime.

Penn State came out of the half and shoved the ball down NU's throat on its first two possessions to close the gap to just a bucket.  The Wildcats responded with some hot shooting and quickly extended its lead all the way up to 9 points on a nifty and unWildcatlike fastbreak layup (Shurna) that started with a defensive board.  Unfazed by NU's quick burst Penn State stuck to the game plan and got the ball down low against NU's 1-3-1 and easily converted layups and dunks to close the gap all the way back to even by the 9 minute mark. 

The teams would trade blows in the form of NU three pointers and PSU layups/dunks until the final three minutes when things really got interesting.  With NU clinging to a 2 point lead Tim Frazier drove into the lane and barreled into a stationary Dave Sobolewski.  Instead of a momentum swinging charge the All-B1G performer got the call and converted the "and one" free throw to give Penn State a one point lead. 

NU would get a couple of good looks to retake the lead but nothing would drop for the Wildcats.  Penn State also had no luck extending their lead.  With under a minute to go Reggie Hearn was called for a charge when it looked like he was reached in on and tripped but no call.  The situation grew increasingly dire when Drew Crawford was forced to foul Jon Graham after a nice Tim Frazier drive and dish under the basket with just 14 ticks left on clock.  Would this be another example of close but not cigar for NU?

Graham looked the part of a 40% FT shooter on the season and clanged both attempts.  NU rushed the ball up the court.  Passed the ball to Shurna at the elbow even though double covered.  Penn State hacked the entry pass.   No call.  NU turned toward the hoop.  Penn State hacked again.  No call.  Shurna shuffled his feet from being pushed around.  No call.  Shurna rose for a shot.  Penn State defenders hacked Shurna on the arm.  Ball was wide left and three feet short.  Official called the foul.  Finally.

With ice in his veins Shurna would calmly knock down the free throws with just 2.6 ticks left on the clock.  Penn State did get the ball past half court, but Frazier's desperation heave feel short.  Hallelujah!  There is Joy in Wildcatville!

Alot has been made of Shurna's individual performance, and it was impressive.  23 points.  6 assists.  5 blocks.  2 steals.  Zero turnovers.  Still this was no one man show as his teammates went 15-33 from the field and 12-20 from distance.  In particular Alex Marcotullio played a major part in the victory scoring 12 points on 4-6 shooting from distance.  Drew Crawford scored 13 points on impressive 4-5 shooting from distance yet somehow went 0-4 from inside the arc.  Dave Sobolewski had a couple of very impressive takes to the hole  Reggie Hearn knocked down some key shots, and JerShon Cobb knocked some rust off and went 2-4 from the floor for 5 points in 23 minutes of action.

With the win NU kept alive its NCAAs at large berth hopes.  Next up come big bad Ohio State (23-,11-5) to the Welsh for a 730pm tip at the Welsh on Wednesday.  It was once a foregone conclusion that the Buckeyes would run away with the B1G race.  Not so much.  If Michigan State wins in Bloomington on Tuesday night then the best Ohio State could finish would be one game back of the Spartans.  NU fans would give a kidney for such fate, but Ohio State has to be extremely disappointed with how the end of the conference season has gone. 

In our view there is little pressure on NU in this game.  A win is not vital to NU's NCAAs dreams, but a win would make it a near certainty.  The Welsh should be rocking once again for Senior Night in what could be a historic night.  So be sure to make it out to the game and be loud!