EVANSTON – Struggling Penn State found a way to win for the second time in three games on Thursday night.
That the Nittany Lions’ 66-59 victory came over slumping Northwestern didn’t matter at all. It was bouncing back from a tough loss at Minnesota that mattered.
“After losing to Minnesota the way we did, human nature sets in,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “We were down 16-0 there.”
That made taking a 12-0 lead on Northwestern all the more important.
“It started with our defense,” said D.J. Newbill, who along with Jermaine Marshall led the Lions with 18 points Thursday. “We got (five) turnovers early and then were able to get out and get some good shots on offense. Our defense got us running.”
Penn State (10-19 overall, 2-15 Big Ten), last in the 12-team conference, withstood a Northwestern surge to pull away in the second half, ending a 17-game Big Ten road losing streak that dated to March 6, 2011 at Minnesota. The Nittany Lions’ only other conference win this season was at home against No. 7 Michigan on Feb. 27.
Northwestern (13-17, 4-13) has lost seven in a row and nine of its past 10. Alex Marcotullio scored a career-high 22 points for the Wildcats.
Reggie Hearn scored 11 points before fouling out with 3:07 to play for Northwestern.
Northwestern’s losing streak began when forward Jared Swopshire was injured at Iowa on Feb. 9. The Wildcats lost swingman Drew Crawford in December, and two others earlier in the season.
Injuries or no, the losing streak renewed speculation that Bill Carmody, in his 13th season as coach, may be fired by athletic director Jim Phillips at the end of the season.
“It’s on my mind, but I’ll talk with Jim after the Big Ten tournament, and we’ll go from there,” said Carmody, who has a year remaining on his contract.
“The system Coach has in place allowed us to compete with more athletic teams,” Hearn said in Carmody’s defense. “Before Swopshire went out, we were 4-6 (in the Big Ten) with a chance of winning at Iowa.”
Northwestern ended its home season with an 8-11 record. The Wildcats visit No. 10 Michigan State on Sunday, while Penn State hosts No. 22 Wisconsin on Sunday before next week’s Big Ten tournament.