While the Penn State men’s basketball team started its huddle during a media timeout, the Northwestern players took a little longer getting to the opposite sideline.
The Wildcats couldn’t help but enjoy Scottie Lindsey’s emphatic two-handed dunk over Penn State’s Isaiah Washington moments earlier. Wildcats center Barret Benson flexed with both arms on the sideline, and Lindsey’s teammates surrounded him after the slam.
Northwestern’s Gavin Skelly acted as if he was capturing Lindsey on video, having a little bit of fun before they made their way down the court.
The scene played out during the first half as Penn State struggled to find its rhythm offensively and couldn’t slow the red-hot Wildcats. The Nittany Lions couldn’t overcome a 19-point halftime deficit in an 87-77 loss in their Big Ten opener Tuesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Northwestern hit its first six shots and started 10 for 13 from the field to take a 25-9 lead with 12:21 left in the first half.
“We just got to stick together in situations like that,” said Penn State guard Josh Reaves, who finished with a career-high 22 points. “They came out, I think they made their first five or six shots and we just got to play better defense, we got to contest more shots. We got to just play more together.”
Lindsey scored 17 of his career-high 31 points in the first half to pace the Wildcats (12-2, 1-0).
Northwestern went on an 18-2 run to build that 16-point lead less than eight minutes into the game. The Wildcats came into the game looking to execute its half-court offense and to prevent the Nittany Lions (8-6, 0-1) from getting into the open court. They carried out that plan with success, getting open looks to race out to the early lead.
“I thought we were really sharp running our offense, sharp on the defensive end, got ourselves the lead,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “We withstood a couple of their runs and were able to kind of keep them at bay and keep it at double figures.”
Penn State went scoreless for more than four minutes and went more than six minutes without a field goal during a stretch in the first half. Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said his team needed to trust its half-court offense when Northwestern started to extend its lead. It worked for the Nittany Lions in back-to-back 90-point performances to close out the nonconference schedule.
But the Nittany Lions allowed the early deficit to affect their play.
“I think we get a little bit anxious when you start to see you’re down five, down seven, down 10, down 12,” Chambers said. “You start to get anxious, ‘I got to go get the ball, I got to go make a play.’”
The Nittany Lions trailed 51-32 at the break after shooting 30.3 percent while allowing Northwestern to shoot 55.9 percent in the first half.
The Wildcats maintained a double-digit lead until the final minute.
Penn State showed some fight in the final minutes as Shep Garner dove for a loose ball while Northwestern was called for a shot-clock violation with 1:11 to play. Reaves came up with a steal and dunk, and Garner finished a three-point play to slice the deficit to nine points with 18 seconds left.
It was too late, but Chambers said it was a “small success” going into Sunday’s game at Rutgers.
“I didn’t yell at them after the game,” Chambers said. “I said let’s learn. We got to learn from this experience.”