No. 20 Penn St. aims to end season on high note vs. Northwestern

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Perhaps a visit to rebuilding Northwestern will help Penn State end its current rough stretch and conclude the regular season on a much-needed positive note.

The 20th-ranked Nittany Lions look to avoid a third straight defeat while trying to hand the Wildcats their eighth consecutive home loss on Saturday in Evanston, Ill.

Penn State (21-9, 11-8 in Big Ten) might be one of the biggest surprises on the 2019-20 college basketball scene, but things have been tough while going 1-4 following a season-high eight-game winning streak. Still, coach Patrick Chambers is trying to keep his team upbeat and confident entering the final weekend of the regular season and beyond.

“It’s exciting to be on (this) level now, and that can’t drop,” Chambers told Penn State’s official website. “We’re a damn good team, we just haven’t played 40 minutes yet.

“We have a lot of basketball to be played. A lot of time for us to right the ship, and we will because I know we have a lot of commitment and a lot of love in that locker room.”

Love has not helped the Nittany Lions do any better than averaging 64.0 points and shooting 37.4 percent (28.4 from 3-point range) over the last five games. Opponents, meanwhile, are shooting 45.0 percent against Penn State during that span. Michigan State shot 68 percent and scored 48 points in the second half to overcome a 19-point hole and stun host Penn State 79-71 on Tuesday.

The Nittany Lions’ Myreon Jones (13.8 points per game) scored 16 and Lamar Stevens (17.6 ppg) added 15 on Tuesday, but the latter went 3 of 19 from the field. Stevens is shooting 33 percent, including 2 of 14 from beyond the arc, in the last five contests.

Stevens went 8 of 17 from the field and finished with 23 points while Penn State recorded its third straight win over Northwestern (7-22, 2-17 in Big Ten), 77-61 on Feb. 15. Though the young Wildcats shot 46.6 percent, they were outrebounded 42-30 by the Nittany Lions, who also hit 11 3-pointers in that contest.

It’s been an extremely difficult season for Northwestern, which is loaded with youth and ranks last in the league averaging 64.7 points and close to the bottom shooting 41.5 percent. The Wildcats shot a season-worst 31.5 percent overall and managed just 20 points in the second half of Wednesday’s 63-48 loss at No. 24 Wisconsin.

Northwestern now returns home, where it’s averaged 60.3 points and shot 29.3 percent from distance during a seven-game Big Ten losing streak that dates to a 62-57 win over Nebraska on Jan. 11. Perhaps the celebration of Senior Day and the final home game of the season will provide a little momentum for the Wildcats, who have just three seniors on the roster and started three freshmen with a sophomore against the Badgers.

“I know everybody is going to be motivated to play well (Saturday),” Northwestern coach Chris Collins told WGN 720-AM.

“(We’re) excited about the core and what’s ahead of us.”

Six-foot-10 Wildcats sophomore Pete Nance (8.3 ppg) scored 14 at Wisconsin and has averaged 10.0 over the last six games. He had 12 points and seven rebounds at Penn State last month.

Northwestern has lost 15 straight against ranked teams since beating then-No. 20 Michigan on Feb. 6, 2018.

–Field Level Media

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