Saturday night’s showdown with Northwestern in Evanston was critical for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions entered the game at 1-4 in the Big Ten, but all four losses were to teams that figure to be ranked next week. So tangling with the Wildcats gave Pat Chambers’ squad a chance to break out of their funk against a middle-of-the-pack conference foe.
Penn State did just that, using its length to stifle the NU offense for most of the night in a 71-62 victory.
Forward Brandon Taylor scored a team-high 19 points, reserve center Donovan Jack had his best game of the year with 14 points and nine rebounds, and wing Payton Bank add 10 points as PSU improved to 11-8 overall and 2-4 in the B1G.
Northwestern, fresh of a home win over Wisconsin but staring into a tough stretch against the conference elite, slipped to 15-4 and 3-3.
The Nittany Lions trailed 8-7 early on when guard Shep Garner hit a 3-pointer. Penn State would never trail again.
PSU led 30-23 at the break, and it all boiled down to defense. The Lions held the Wildcats to 0-12 shooting from the arc and 28 percent overall in the first half.
The lead grew to as many a 18 in the second half (54-38, 8:06). NU scrapped back behind 18 second-half points from guard Tre Demps, but the Lions took care of business at the free-throw line (making 22 of 28 in the final 20 minutes) to maintain control.
PSU plays host to the struggling Badgers (9-9, 1-4) Thursday.