In this one, however, it was clear from the outset that another easy victory was not in the cards for PSU. If anything, at times Northwestern appeared to be on the verge of blowing it open. The Wildcats hit 15 of 25 shots in the first half and took a 37-27 lead into the locker room.
They led by as many as 14 (43-29) four minutes into the second half before Penn State began a methodical comeback. Yet while NU only scored 10 points the rest of the way, the Lions, who have been poor offensively in the Big Ten, simply didn't have the firepower to take complete advantage.
It took them until the 3:34 mark to climb within two (49-47), which they did when Danny Morrissey hit a 3-pointer. Moments later, Jamelle Cornley had a chance to tie the game, but made only one of two free throws and it was 49-48.
The teams swapped empty possessions before Penn State put together a solid defensive effort, forcing the Wildcats to use almost the entire shot clock. Guard Craig Moore received the ball 25 feet from the bucket with four seconds left on the shot clock, and took a step toward halfcourt while launching a prayer back at the hoop. The ball swished through the net for a 52-48 lead.
Undeterred, PSU quickly countered with a Mike Walker 3-pointer to make it 52-51 with 2:05 left.
Northwestern missed a pair of shots on its next possession before Lion forward Geary Claxton cleared the defensive rebound with 44 seconds showing. Following a timeout, Cornley threw a bad pass to Claxton and Jeff Ryan stole the ball. He was quickly fouled and made one of two free throws to give NU a 53-51 lead with 21 seconds left.
With time winding down, Morrissey threw a bad pass for Claxton but scrambled to salvage a tie-up, with alternate possession going to the Lions. They inbouded and worked the ball to Claxton on the right elbow, and he drove to the basket but missed a twisting layup attempt.
Wildcat Tim Doyle grabbed the rebound and fired the ball back toward midcourt as time expired.
Claxton led the Lions with 16 points, but spent much of the afternoon trying to force things from the arc. He was 1 of 6 on 3-pointers and PSU as a team was 6 of 21 from long range.
Walker had a dozen points off the bench to go along with three assists, yet logged only 20 minutes overall. Starting point guard Ben Luber, meanwhile, played 26 minutes but was held scoreless for the fourth time in five games. PSU's other senior guard, David Jackson, also took the collar from the field.
Forward Kevin Coble led Northwestern with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Things only figure to get worse from here for the Lions, who began this five-game stretch with a loss to No. 4 Wisconsin at the BJC Wednesday. State is back home this Wednesday to face No. 2 Ohio State. After that, it faces Wisconsin in Madison and then the Buckeyes in Columbus.
The school record for consecutive Big Ten losses in a single season, in case you were wondering, is 11. It was set in State's first year in the league (1992-93) and equaled in 2004-05.
DeChellis now has single-season Big Ten losing streaks of 11 (2004-05), 10 (2003-04) and nine (this season) games.
Penn State continued to hurt itself from the line, making only 9 of 16 shots (56 percent).
Center Brandon Hassell, who missed the Wisconsin game with a sprained foot, played 11 minutes Saturday, coming through with one point and one rebound.
The Nittany Lions committed only nine fouls in the game.
Wednesday's game tips at 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.