In desparate need of a win, the Wildcats saw their late-game lead vanish, putting their NCAA tournament hopes on life support.
The Wildcats survived.
The 'Cats flirted with an utter disaster in the second half of Saturday's game, shooting just 40 percent and letting up their lead.
It took two missed free throws from Penn State forward Jon Graham, then a questionable foul call, leading to John Shurna's go-ahead free throws. All of this coming after a scoring drought in the final minutes.
That's what it took to beat 12-17 Penn State. It wasn't pretty, but it didn't have to be. Not at this point in the season. Not with March looming.
Northwestern did not pick up any style points with its one-point win over the bottom-dwelling Nittany Lions. John Shurna didn't score 30 points. There was no buzzer-beating shot for the Wildcats. There was nothing sexy about the win. However, style points aren't important anymore. Only wins matter.
With the victory, Northwestern advances to 17-11 on the season, doing so against a tough schedule. The 'Cats are one win away from reaching the eight-win mark in Big Ten play, which may be enough to reach the tournament. A triumph over No. 6 Ohio State likely secures a berth in the Big Dance.
Two weeks remaing till Selection Sunday, and the Wildcats have a handful of chances remaining before it's too late. NU's RPI, strength of schedule, and any advance statistic created by so-called Bracketologists don't matter anymore.
All Northwestern needs to do to reach the tournament is win--even if that means winning ugly.