After a close loss at Wisconsin and a lopsided defeat to one of the Big Ten's best teams (Indiana), Penn State came out flat against what had been a struggling Northwestern squad and stayed there, losing 70-54 to the Wildcats on Thursday night. The Nittany Lions (8-7, 0-3), who dropped their third straight game, shot 32 percent from the field and had nearly no rhythm against Northwestern's zone defense. Penn State wasn't much better on the defensive end, allowing the Wildcats to take control of the game with a long 25-4 run late in the first half.
D.J. Newbill had 20 points for Penn State on Thursday but needed 19 shots to get them.
Top performers: Penn State's top two scorers once again did the heavy lifting. D.J. Newbill scored 20 points, 16 of them in the second half, and Jermaine Marshall added 13, all in the second half.
Dave Sobolewski led the Wildcats (10-6, 1-2) with 18 points and Jared Swopshire added 17 points and five assists.
What went right: The Nittany Lions, who had been extremely generous with the basketball during the last few games, took care of it decently, committing just 11 turnovers. Penn State connected on 15 of its 18 free-throw attempts. Late-game efforts by Newbill and reserve guard Kevin Montminy pleased what remained of the crowd.
What went wrong: Nearly everything else. Penn State did not defend, did not move the ball, let a Northwestern team that typically has little interest in rebounding break relatively even on the glass and missed nearly as many shots from inside 5 feet than the Wildcats missed from the arc. Patrick Chambers said before the game his young team could struggle against Northwestern's deliberate system and it did; the Nittany Lions had little offensive flow and were often caught scrambling to catch up with open Wildcat shooters.
Statworthy: Penn State has lost its last three games to Northwestern, two at home, after winning 26 of the previous 38 games in the series. … Ross Travis had nine rebounds and has led the Nittany Lions in that category in 10 of 15 games this season. … Brandon Taylor has a combined six points and nine personal fouls in his last two games. … The two benches combined for just 19 points (11 for Northwestern's, eight for Penn State's).
Quotable: "We haven't been shooting the ball that great, so we tried to sort of ignore it so we didn't put too much heat on these guys." -- Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, after the Wildcats shot 46 percent and 41 percent from 3-point range in Thursday's win.
"I need to get them ready mentally. If they have other things in their head, then I'm not doing my job. … I gotta do a better job with them so they understand the sense of urgency you need to compete in the Big Ten. I don't see desperation, don't see ruthlessness. I see it in the coaching staff but I don't see it in the players." -- Penn State coach Patrick Chambers
Summary: A ship that didn't take on quite as much water as many thought it might have when Tim Frazier went down suddenly has holes everywhere in the hull and looks like it might capsize. The Nittany Lions haven't played perfect basketball all season but against the Wildcats they didn't play with urgency, either. Chambers wants to get Newbill and Marshall to share the ball but their teammates haven't done much with it so far to inspire confidence. Penn State's best way out -- at least until it can start making shots from point-blank range -- is to improve its defense, and quickly. But with several of the conference's top offensive teams still lurking on the schedule, that won't be easy. How the Nittany Lions respond in Sunday's visit to Purdue could be huge.
Up next: The Nittany Lions will visit Purdue at noon Sunday.