UNIVERSITY PARK - It's hard to fault Bryce Jordan Center public address announcer Jeff Brown for saying, "Northwestern 50, Penn State 43" before a timeout midway through the second half.
The score at the time was actually 50-33.
The Nittany Lions have lost more than their share of blowouts over the years to the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, teams that routinely contend for Big Ten if not NCAA titles. But their 70-54 loss to Northwestern Thursday required a suspension of disbelief normally reserved for the movies.
The few thousand in attendance and those tuned to ESPNU who thought they might see a struggling Penn State team's best shot at a Big Ten win denied by layups that clanked off the rim and the 3-pointers that sailed over it.
"It was embarrassing, and that's the first time I've ever said that," said Penn State (8-7, 0-3) coach Pat Chambers, who apologized for keeping the media waiting for a postgame interview.
"I have to do a much better job of preparing my team and getting them ready to play. We didn't play with enthusiasm and energy and I have to look at myself in the mirror," Chambers said. "We were not ready to play and it's disappointing. That's on me. I take full responsibility."
A season-low 31 percent shooting and a 25-4 Northwestern run over 11 minutes late in the first half as the Lions missed 13 of 15 shots were to blame. Chambers repeated that the Nittany Lions are a "feel-good" team that plays well when shooting well, but poorly when shooting poorly.
Northwestern (10-6, 1-2) coach Bill Carmody was a little more diplomatic, saying he couldn't quite believe Penn State's luck, and thought when he looked at the tape he'd see shots that the Nittany Lions could have made.
Perhaps the most emblematic sequence came at the end of the first half, as Lion guard Nick Colella bobbled the ball trying to set up a long 3-pointer, only to recover and misfire an off-balance attempt. Donovan Jack pulled the offensive rebound, but Jared Swopshire swatted away his putback dunk at the buzzer.
"We hit shots and they missed some," Carmody said. "I liked that we didn't turn it over, and our defense was pretty good. They were taking it down to the basket, and for the most part I was pleased with that."
Chambers said the Lions played more first-half zone defense than normal because Northwestern went right at freshman 6-foot-7 forward Brandon Taylor to start the game, just as Indiana did Monday night. But Chambers thought that enabled Northwestern and its Princeton-style offense enough 3-point opportunities that opened Wildcats' lead.
"(Taylor) has just got to continue to get better," Chambers said. "Everyone is picking on him."
Taylor finished with four fouls and two points in 20 minutes. D.J. Newbill led the Lions with 20 points, but shot 6-for-19. Jermaine Marshall scored 13 points on 4-for-12 shooting. As a team, Penn State had 11 turnovers but just 7 assists. Ross Travis led Penn State with nine rebounds, but limped off the court late in the second half after sliding his right ankle on an inbounds pass.
"You know, D.J. and Jermaine chose to drive it, and they worked a little but you can't wait 20 minutes to get the engine going," Chambers said.
Dave Sobolewski's 18-point night led four Northwestern double-digit scorers.
This was just the Wildcats' fourth victory at Penn State. Now Penn State will head to Purdue Sunday before hosting Michigan State and Nebraska later in the week.