For Northwestern, the motivation was obvious. Win this game, and the Wildcats inch one step closer to earning the program's first-ever NCAA tournament bid. Lose it, and any hope goes out the window.
So as Penn State point guard Tim Frazier pointed out after the game, "They played like they had their life on the line tonight."
As a result, Northwestern outlasted Penn State in a down-to-the-wire contest at the Bryce Jordan Center Saturday night, picking up the 67-66 victory and moving one step closer to the Dance.
Their approach: Shoot as many threes as possible with hopes that the Nittany Lions wouldn't be able to match their attack. But that's not necessarily how the night played out.
Sure, the Wildcats made 15 of their 27 three-point attempts, but Penn State was able to match their assault, for the most part. The Wildcats held a seven-point lead five minutes into the second half, but strong play by Frazier and the inside game, including Jon Graham who tied his career high in points with 10 and Ross Travis who snagged a career-high 9 rebounds, helped Penn State close the gap with less than 5:00 remaining in the game.
Then Frazier was fouled on a jumper with 2:48 left that sent him to the line, where he would put Penn state in the lead for the first time since the 10:00 mark in the first half. It was also their final lead.
But it wasn't Northwestern's three-point attack that ultimately sealed the Nittany Lions' fate. Rather it was a last-minute, questionable foul call on Jon Graham that sent John Shurna to the line for the Wildcats. Two good free throws and a half-court three-point attempt later, the Wildcats were walking off the court with the one-point victory in hand.
Afterward in the Bryce Jordan press room, a scratchy-voiced Pat Chambers was reluctant to say much about the call, but did admit that "you'd rather see [the game] in the kids' hands."
"I thought we had the rebound," Chambers added, "and it was going to be a one and one."
- Chambers said earlier in the week that he was contemplating playing Frazier less than normal, but changed his mind as the senior point guard lead the team with 39 minutes. He also tied Northwestern's Shurna for a game-high 23 points. It was Frazier's 15th 20-point game of the season, which leads the conference.
With his eight assists, he now ranks second on Penn State's season assists list with 183.
- Trey Lewis, a freshman guard who has been battling a back injury, saw five minutes of playing time and missed his only field goal attempt.
- Penn State allowed 15 Wildcat three-point field goals, two shy of their record allowed against Big Ten schools.