In its last chance this season, Penn State earned its first Big Ten road victory under Patrick Chambers with a 66-59 win at Northwestern on Thursday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Jermaine Marshall, D.J. Newbill and Sasa Borovnjak had big nights as the Nittany Lions snapped a road-losing streak that spanned 19 games dating back to last season.
Marshall (7 of 13) and Newbill (8 of 14) each finished with 18 points, while Borovnjak (5 of 8) notched his first double-double with 15 points and ten rebounds. Ross Travis also played well, scoring eight points and grabbing nine rebounds.
The win was the Nittany Lions second in the last three games after losing 14 in a row to start conference play.
The Wildcats were led by Alex Marcotullio’s career-high 22 points on senior night in Evanston.
The senior entered the game averaging just four points per night, but kept his team alive from the 3-point line. He hit a career-high six 3-pointers (6-of-9) in his last game at Welsh-Ryan.
Senior Reggie Hearn (11 points) was the only other Wildcat in double digits.
It was a back-and-forth affair that featured spurts of offensive brilliance interspersed with long scoreless droughts and plenty of turnovers.
After getting steamed rolled from start to finish by Minnesota in its last outing, Penn State (10-19, 2-15 Big Ten) opened the game with a 15-3 run against Northwestern (13-17, 4-13 Big Ten).
It was a much-needed reversal after the Golden Gophers blitzed the Nittany Lions 16-0 to start the game in Williams Arena.
The same three-quarter court trap that confused then-No. 4 Michigan at University Park did the same against the Wildcats.
However, Bill Carmody’s team would prove resilient as they withstood the charge and forced a few turnovers of their own.
Each team committed 10 first-half turnovers and combined for 31 total (Penn State 16, Northwestern 15).
Newbill led all players with seven and Marcotullio had five.
The Nittany Lions would regain control of the half however.
In a play emblematic of the best Penn State basketball this season, two seniors, one freshman and a soon-to-be senior combined to complete a nice offensive and defensive sequence.
Leading 19-14 with 10:10 left until halftime, Borovnjak, a senior, lost control of the ball near his own basket. Fellow senior Nick Colella (7 points, 4 assists, 4 steals) hit the floor to come up with the loose ball but came up empty.
Dave Sobolewski (8 points) gathered possession and broke quickly up the floor to capitalize on an odd-man advantage. But Colella tracked him down and dove again, this time from behind, to poke the ball away.
When the orange careened toward the end line, freshman Brandon Taylor sprawled to keep it inbounds.
Borovnjak, who started the play with a turnover, also hit the floor and in a single motion one-touched the ball to Marshall who started a fast break.
The redshirt junior, who was forced into a leadership role this season when Tim Frazier went down with injury, finished the sequence with a drive left, spin back right and a floater in the lane.
The basket helped Penn State respond to a 10-0 Northwestern run and eventually helped yield a modest 34-30 lead at halftime.
Chambers’ squad began the second frame with similar alacrity, jumping out to a 41-30 lead after a 7-0 burst.
Northwestern struggled to get going for much of the night. They shot just 17 of 49 from the field (34 percent) and 8 of 23 from three (34 percent).
In contrast, the Lions shot 22 of 45 from the field (48 percent) and 7 of 17 from three (41 percent) in the game.
However, as the half matriculated Marcotullio and Northwestern began to dissect the 2-3-zone defense that caused problems early.
His sixth triple of the night gave the Wildcats a 54-53 lead with 6:15 remaining. But that would be the last significant field goal for Northwestern.
Borovnjak and Newbill scored baskets on Penn State’s ensuing possessions to grab a lead it would never relinquish.
Trey Demps hit an ineffectual layup with six seconds remaining for the game’s final basket.
Penn State will face Wisconsin on Sunday at noon in the Bryce Jordan Center to end the Big Ten regular season. It will be Alumni Day with over 50 lettermen returning, including Joe Crispin, Pete Lisicky, Geary Claxton, Jarrett Stephens and Titus Ivory. Ivory, who is recovering from a stroke he suffered in October, will be the honorary captain for the game.