Talor Battle is the leading scorer in the Big Ten. He showed what makes him so good today when he scored 19 points in the second half to push Penn State past Northwestern. He also grabbed 12 rebounds and didn’t look tired at all in playing all 40 minutes. He was one of two Penn State players with double figures in rebounds (Andrew Jones with 10) and it was that rebounding which proved critical to Penn State’s victory. The Lions grabbed 46 rebounds, 19 offensive, compared to Northwestern’s 24 rebounds, 1 offensive. Many of those rebounds resulted in second and third shots which PSU converted. It was especially bad for Northwestern when those offensive rebounds ended up being kicked out to Battle or Stanley Pringle for an open three. This inability to rebound was a major problem for NU last year, but hadn’t been so far this season. Unfortunately, this game resembled last season much more than anything seen thus far this year. The second half especially as NU quit playing defense and went from allowing 21 first half points to 41 second half points. Not guarding Battle outside was obviously the most critical error, but the Wildcats failed to apply pressure to virtually every Penn State player in the game’s second twenty minutes. If NU had kept up their defensive pressure I think they would have won. NU also missed way too many threes. Kevin Coble, Jeff Ryan, John Shurna, and Jeremy Nash all had three point attempts which could have changed the game and they all missed. The ESPN guys gushed over Shurna, but the fact is he missed more shots than he made and his inability to convert a one-and-one in the last two minutes of the game killed NU late. John Shurna is a fine player, but he did not have a good game today. If NU wants to avoid repeating last season’s 1-17 Big Ten record they will need much better production for Shurna and fellow forward Kevin Coble.
This loss was similar to the loss to Butler in that NU had a large lead and then let that lead slip away. Unfortunately, unlike the loss at Butler, Northwestern doesn’t get any easy opponents to get well against. Instead, a collection of ranked opponents await the ‘Cats. First up is #15 Michigan State on Saturday. If NU doesn’t play a lot better it looks like a 0-7 start in the Big Ten is likely. That’s why this loss hurts so much. A winnable toss up game like this is the type of victory you must get if you want to claw above .500. As it stands now, NU is facing one of the toughest stretches of games any team in the nation will face all year and they’ll also likely have to battle a sulking mental state as I can’t imagine this loss will be easy to shake.
A Note on Fan Reaction
A quick a look at the Wildcatreport.com message boards shows that fan frustration is extremely high right now. I expect the “Fire Bill Carmody” folks to return in full force very soon. I have to say, though, Bill Carmody didn’t lose this game and Ed DeChellis sure as hell didn’t win it—except for one small item—he recruited Talor Battle and Carmody didn’t. Look, I love Northwestern and have supported every guy who’s wore purple and white since I started attending games as a child, but the reason NU will lose games like this one is the fact our players don’t matchup, especially, it seems, in the clutch. Talor Battle saw his team struggling and stepped up to win the game. Kevin Coble, John Shurna, and company had a chance to match him shot for shot, but they didn’t. Does that mean they never will? No. But Northwestern has failed in the clutch a lot recently. I look back at last year’s Big Ten Tournament game or the losses during the regular season to Iowa (twice) and Indiana. Some will say this is the coach’s fault. I have to admit I said so last year to anybody who would listen. Upon further review, though, I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to blame the coach if the players miss open shots—and NU misses a ton of them. If the shots are open, doesn’t that mean the coach’s system is working? I think it does. If NU is to win they need to make those shots. They need their better players like Coble, Shurna, Moore, etc. to toughen up and make open shots and free throws in the clutch. Until that happens NU isn’t going to win a lot of close games. We can complain about coaches or blame losses on officials, but the only people who can push NU to the next level and make these players get tougher in the clutch are those players themselves and that needs to happen soon or it will cost their coach his job.