Wildcats played far from their best basketball on Saturday, but played just well enough to outlast the Penn State Nittany Lions in double-overtime, 85-79.
"> Wildcats played far from their best basketball on Saturday, but played just well enough to outlast the Penn State Nittany Lions in double-overtime, 85-79.

Northwestern vs. Penn State Post-Game Digest

The Northwestern <font color="#330033"><b>Wildcats</b></font> played far from their best basketball on Saturday, but played just well enough to outlast the <font color="#3333ff"><b>Penn State Nittany Lions</b></font> in double-overtime, 85-79.<br>

In the first half, Northwestern took an early lead, but frequent turnovers prevented the Wildcats from pulling away from the scrappy Nittany Lions. The Wildcats took only a two-point lead, 28-26, into the locker room at halftime.

Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody [left] challenged his team's first-half play and effort at halftime.  "There wasn't a whole lot of strategy talk and X's and O's at halftime," commented Carmody after the game. 

In an odd turn of events, the Wildcats had a little extra time to mull over Carmody's halftime speech.  Just before play was to resume, the lights over half of the court at Welsh-Ryan Arena were inadvertently switched off.  Both teams had to wait an extra ten minutes for the arena lights to warm up before the second half could begin.

Once the second half got under way,
the Welsh-Ryan arena crowd -- as well as the national audience on ESPN -- were treated to a show by two former Chicago Catholic League players.  Northwestern's Jitim Young led the Wildcats with 26 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and four steals.  Young was the catalyst for the Wildcats for most of the second half.  Penn State's Brandon Watkins, meanwhile, scored 27 of his game-high 31 points after halftime.

Behind 6'2" Jitim Young's [left] post play early in the second half, Northwestern went on a 19-7 run that extended the Wildcat lead to 12 points, 51-39, with 11:04 to play in regulation.

As had been the case in the first half, Northwestern turned over the ball on multiple consecutive possessions gave Penn State an opportunity to get back into the game.  Brandon Watkins continued to frustrate Wildcat defenders and led Penn State on a 16-2 run that was capped by a Brandon Cameron bank shot in the lane with 4:27 to play to give Penn State a 57-53 lead.

Some timely free-throw shooting by the Wildcats, the Big Ten's worst free-throw shooting team, gave Northwestern the lead again.  The Wildcats struggled from the line all afternoon, but Young and senior forward Jason Burke combined for a six-of-six stretch from the line to take a 61-58 lead with just over a minute to play.

After trading baskets with the Wildcats, Penn State found themselves with the ball down three-with 40 seconds remaining.  After a Penn State timeout, Brandon Watkins drained a three-pointer from beyond the top of the arc with a hand in his face to tie the game at 65 with 8.2 seconds to play.

Northwestern called timeout once advancing to the front court with 3.7 on the clock.  Penn State defended the inbound pass well, but Jason Burke got off an open shot from the wing that fell short as time expired.
In the first overtime,
Northwestern initiated scoring when senior center Aaron Jennings [AP Photo-Mike Fisher-left] connected on a three-point shot that was released just before the shot clock expired.  Jennings extended the lead to five points with a nifty move and basket in the low post. 

Once again, however, the Wildcats were unable to dispose of Penn State.
Northwestern left the door open for Brandon Watkins and the Nittany Lions this time by missing 3 of 4 free-thows, two by Jitim Young and one by senior forward Winston Blake.
Brandon Watkins provided the Penn State heroics again by knocking runner in the lane with 6.3 seconds to play.  Northwestern set up another potential game winning buzzer-beater, but freshman guard T.J. Parker missed his open 20-footer off the back of the rim and the game was sent to a second overtime period.
In the second overtime,
Northwestern pounded the ball inside to Jennings, for whom Penn State had no answer after center Jan Jagla fouled out in the first overtime.  Jennings scored in the post and from the free-throw line to give Northwestern the lead for good.

In the final overtime period, Northwestern hit 7-of-8 attempts from the free-throw line to hold on for the 85-79 win.

The victory improved Northwestern's record to 11-14, 3-11 in the Big Ten.

The win also solidified Northwestern's position as the 10th seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, where the Wildcats will face the 7th seed in the second game of the tournament's opening round at Chicago's United Center.  The loss dropped Penn State's record to 6-19, 1-13. 
Senior Leadership
Northwestern's three seniors, center Aaron Jennings, forward Jason Burke, and forward Winston Blake took over the game for the Wildcats in the two overtime periods.  The three seniors scored 18 of Northwestern's 20 points after the end of regulation.

Maley departure does not change Northwestern's recruiting strategy
Maley against MSUEarlier in the week, the Northwestern Basketball Office made an official announcement that freshman forward Jimmy Maley [AP Photo - right - Al Goldis] had quit the team for personal reasons.  Jimmy, who started 11 games for the Wildcats but had recently seen his playing time diminish, reportedly lost his passion for the game of basketball.  While Jimmy plans to remain a student at Northwestern, he has no plans to return to the team.  Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody has said that he will keep a spot open for Jimmy should he choose to reconsider.

After the game, Wildcat assistant coach Mitch Henderson stated that Jimmy's departure does not alter the Northwestern recruiting strategy.  With two scholarships remaining for next season, the Wildcats still plan on signing a big man who can rebound and make an immediate impact and hold onto the other scholarship to leave room to accept a transfer.

A new good luck charm?
After Northwestern upset Indiana and Purdue on consecutive Wednesdays last month, Bill Carmody noted that he had worn the same tie for both games and wondered if it was a good luck charm.  On Saturday, Carmody – along with coaches across the country – wore a bow tie as a tribute to retiring Mount St. Mary's head coach Jim Phelan.  When Carmody was asked after the game if he would continue to wear the bow tie, Carmody responded with a succinct, "negative."

The upcoming tilt
This Wednesday, March 6 the Wildcats will host the Ohio State Buckeyes in the final Northwestern home game of the season.  It will be Senior Night as well as Fan Appreciation night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.  Game time is set for 6 p.m. CST.

Gregory Kane covers Northwestern basketball for TheInsiders.com. He also posts on Northwestern message boards as "go cats go". Gregory can be reached at gregoryjkane@yahoo.com.

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