With Evan Eschmeyer double- and triple-teamed and Northwestern missing shot after shot, it looked like those old Mildcats were back.
Then Eschmeyer started pushing people around, his teammates found their shots and the Wildcats came roaring back to beat Penn State 54-44 Thursday in the opening game of the Big Ten tournament.
Steve Lepore scored eight of his 14 points in the final 1:42, Eschmeyer added 11 and Sean Wink came up with a huge 3-pointer down the stretch for the Wildcats (15-12), who won for the first time in seven games. They'll play Michigan State, the No. 2 team in the country, in the quarterfinals Friday.
Joe Crispin had 18 points -- all on 3-pointers -- but didn't get much help from his teammates. The Nittany Lions (13-14) went almost 10 minutes into the second half before someone besides Crispin scored a field goal. With Northwestern playing tight on Penn State's shooters, no other Nittany Lion scored in double figures. Dan Earl, who came in averaging 14 points, took just nine shots and finished with seven. Calvin Booth, who averages 16, also had seven. Booth also had five blocked shots, giving him 428 in his career, fifth-best in NCAA history.
Penn State cut the lead to 42-39 with 4:06 left on a 3-pointer from Greg Grays and two free throws from Gyasi Cline-Heard. But Cline-Heard blew a gimme dunk that would have made it a one-point game, going too hard to the basket and sending the ball bouncing backward as he hung on the rim.
Then Wink drilled his 3-pointer -- his only basket of the game -- to make it 45-39 with 3:18 left, and Penn Stat never threatened again. For good measure, Lepore went 6-for-6 from the free throw line and added a layup in the last 1:42.
Northwestern got off to a horrid start in the first half, missing its first 10 shots as Crispin hit three 3-pointers in the first 5:14 to give Penn State an 11-1 lead. A layup from Cline-Heard gave Penn State a 15-3 lead with 11:38 left, but the Nittany Lions went the next 8:02 without a field goal.
Eschmeyer, who had Nittany Lions draped on him anytime he got near the ball, started kicking it out to his teammates, and Northwestern rallied. Lepore hit a 3-pointer with 49 seconds left, and Tavaras Hardy's hit the glass before dropping in at the buzzer to cut Penn State's lead to 20-17 at halftime.
Eschmeyer found a way to score in the second half, scoring six points as Northwestern went on a 12-2 run that gave the Wildcats a 42-30 lead with 5:18
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