Northwestern turned in a workmanlike and dominant performance, running circles around Penn State for a victory to open Big Ten play.
The old Northwestern would have had a let down. The old Northwestern would have fallen apart. The old Northwestern would not have won easily, if at all.
Playing the big teams in the Big Ten was never quite the worry for the Wildcats. Avoiding the bad loss and winning the games they are supposed to win. And dominating them.
Northwestern put their foot down on Penn State on the road to open Big Ten play 87-77 at Bryce Jordan Arena. The Wildcats left no doubt about it. They are not going to play with their toys. They are going to dominate their competition with a versatile defensive play and an offense that can attack from multiple places.
Scottie Lindsey scored a career-high 31 points and Vic Law had a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double. Gavin Skelly scored 12 off the bench.
The Wildcats went up 19 by halftime and never looked back from there. Only a late run from Penn State made the score look more competitive.
Northwestern did not have the best shooting day, but worked the ball around for 19 assists on 28 field goals and made 3-pointers. The Cats got to the foul line.
This game had its highlights, but Northwestern largely went to work and made it, well, boring. The Wildcats were just methodical with the way they beat Penn State. The result was simply never in doubt.
Nor was Northwestern’s dominance. The Wildcats did not need their best offense to win. They turned on the screws defensively and did the simple things to win.
This is not the old Northwestern. Not at all.
Scottie Lindsey can score
Northwestern’s two main offensive weapons are still Bryant McIntosh and Victor Law. But the Wildcats will need a third scorer to keep the team balanced.
Increasingly, that third player is Scottie Lindsey.
The energetic junior has spent a lot of his time at Northwestern playing as a defender and some time spot-up shooter. He averaged 6.4 points per game and shot a 55.2 percent effective field goal percentage.
This year, the Wildcats figured they needed him to take a bit of a step up to help the team. But probably not this much. Not to see him double his scoring output and maintain his lethal efficiency.
Lindsey is averaging 14.6 points per game and posting a 56.3 percent effective field goal percentage.
And he did not disappoint. The Nittany Lions defense collapsed and Lindsey was open. In transition, Lindsey cut through the lane and scored with ease, once on a two-handed dunk.
He scored 31 points on 9-for-14 shooting, making five of his eight 3-point attempts, an 82.1 percent effective field goal percentage.
If there was any doubt, it was put to rest. Lindsey can score for the Wildcats.
Defense on lockdown
Northwestern has never been known as a strong defensive team. The team’s lack of size with Dererk Pardon still nursing a broken finger has put that into focus even more, despite Barret Benson’s best efforts (the freshman will have plenty of tests upcoming).
This team’s defense though continues to show a lot of skill and adeptness to counteract any team — save for crazy 3-point barrages.
The Wildcats have several rangy players able to switch and defend multiple positions. They have used this effectively throughout the season.
Northwestern is 50th in the nation in adjusted defensive rating this year, according to KenPom. And Northwestern has earned that defensive rating.
Penn State shot just 41.7 percent from the floor and 4 for 15 from beyond the arc. Northwestern did a good job shutting them out, causing long scoring droughts to extend and epand their lead.
Northwestern won this game with the team’s strong defensive effort.
Off to a strong start
Northwestern will have no time to rest with a trip to Breslin Center to take on Michigan State upcoming Friday.
The Wildcats have not lost a game in December in two years, now on an 18-game win streak in the month. And they won their Big Ten opener convincingly.
This team is riding high and full of confidence. A confidence the Wildcats have probably never had before in their program’s history.
Many Northwestern tournament dreams have come to University Park only to see them crushed. This was a big statement about Northwestern and what they can do even on neutral night.
The Wildcats can make a bigger statement and continue their drive with another win Friday.