Penn State dropped its third straight conference game in dismal fashion as Northwestern made a series of runs — early and late — en route to a 70-54 victory on Thursday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers accepted responsibility for his team’s poor showing after the game, beginning his post-game news conference with an opening statement in a tone whose decibels began low but peaked soon after.
“I have to do a better job,” Chambers said “I have to do a much better job of preparing my team and getting them ready to play.”
The loss leaves the Nittany Lions winless in the Big Ten with a road game on Sunday against a Purdue squad that upset then-No. 11 Illinois at home 68-61 on Jan. 2.
Penn State will then host No. 22 Michigan State next week.
But against the Wildcats (10-6, 1-2 Big Ten), Penn State looked — in large chunks — like a lifeless team. Absent was the speed and tenacity that had become its staple.
“This one’s on me,” Chambers continued. “We didn’t play with any energy or any enthusiasm. It’s disappointing.”
Penn State looked like it came to compete after an 8-0 run seized an early 10-6 lead, but the Wildcats countered with a 15-2 run that seemed to sap the Nittany Lions’ confidence and desire.
“Sometimes in this lifetime you have to look yourself in the mirror, so I have to look myself in the mirror and say ‘Did I do everything I could do to get this team prepared,” Chambers said, his decibels nearing a crescendo. “I didn’t. It’s obvious because that was embarrassing. That was embarrassing. The first time I’ve said that it in the year and a half that I’ve been here. But I just did not like the way we played, I did not like the way we competed.”
Chambers was quick to praise Northwestern’s play but the disappointment, hurt and frustration in his voice was unmistakable.
Dave Solbolewski led the Wildcats with 18 points. The Wildcats’ point guard maneuvered where he wanted, when he wanted throughout the game. Jared Swopshire scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Reggie Hearn added 14 points.
D.J. Newbill led all scorers with 20 points and seemed to be the only player competing for long stretches. Jermaine Marshall had 13 points, but most came with the outcome decided.
When asked what he could have done differently, Chambers pointed to different starting lineups and different in-game adjustments. The gist was that he needed to do something to toughen his team.
“We’re a feel-good team right now and that’s my job,” he continued. “My job is to tell them, ‘we grind, we’re gritty, that’s the way we play. That’s the way it has to be this year.”
In a sequence that typified the night, Ross Travis grabbed an offensive rebound and elevated for a dunk. When the rim thwarted his attempt, it triggered a Northwestern run and a Sobolewski jack-knifing layup for a 45-24 lead.
Penn State shot just 32 percent from the field and 20 percent from the 3-point line. Conversely, Northwestern shot 45 and 40 percent respectively.
The Wildcats went on runs of 15-2 and 12-2 in the first half. In the second half it was an 8-2 run and a 10-0. It’s a trend Penn State has allowed several times this season, something Chambers concluded was a by product of being a “feel good team.”
To add insult to injury, Travis secured a defensive rebound with 4:30 remaining in the game and rolled his right ankle. He limped off the floor and headed to the trainer’s table. He will be evaluated.