Penn State tops offensively challenged Wildcats

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) – Penn State coach Pat Chambers struggled to explain why his Nittany Lions have experienced success on the road during Big Ten play.

A stifling defensive effort by Penn State against Northwestern Thursday at Welsh-Ryan Arena was exactly what the Nittany Lions needed. The Wildcats had no answer for Penn State’s zone defense as the Nittany Lions cruised to a 59-32 win.

Penn State’s five road wins are the most since 2008-09 when they won six.

“We play better on the road than we do at home,” Chambers said. “It’s wild. It’s crazy. It’s probably because we’re by ourselves and we’re more close together and tight knit.”

The Nittany Lions’ 2-3 zone defense frustrated Northwestern the entire game. The Wildcats’ 32 points were a season low and the fewest scored by any team in Big Ten play. Northwestern shot 23.3 percent from the field and went 3 of 22 behind the arc (season-low 13.6 percent).

Balanced scoring helped the Nittany Lions (15-15, 6-11 Big Ten) pick apart Northwestern’s defense. Tim Frazier and Brandon Taylor, each of whom scored 11 points, were two of eight different players to score for Penn State. The Nittany Lions shot 50 percent from the field and were led by D.J. Newbill’s 12 points.

“At the end of the year, you’re hoping your defense gets to this point,” Chambers said. “If you take away 3s, we’re in the top one or two in defensive field goal percentage. . We have a better understanding of our rotations. When guys are out there talking and I can hear them talking, that’s when you know they’re dialed in.”

The Wildcats (12-18, 5-12) lost their seventh consecutive game with their last win over a month ago against Minnesota on Feb. 1.

“We played extremely well defensively tonight,” Newbill said. “We were really active, had a lot of energy, intensity. We were just making the right reads.”

It didn’t help that the Wildcats’ two best shooters, Drew Crawford and Tre Demps, shot a combined 3 of 19 for 11 points. By halftime, Penn State built a 17-point lead, and Northwestern never threatened during the second half. Alex Olah led the Wildcats with 14 points.

Neither team shot well to open the game. Penn State and Northwestern each made 1 of 6 field goal attempts (16.7 percent) in the first five minutes. The Wildcats went on a scoring drought for over four minutes during which the Nittany Lions built an 8-2 lead.