March 6, 2014
By Callie Counsellor
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Senior Night didn't play out as Nikola Cerina, Drew Crawford and James Montgomery III had hoped, with Northwestern falling to Penn State, 59-32.
But the disappointing finish didn't belittle the careers those three seniors enjoyed at Welsh Ryan Arena.
"The Northwestern community has always supported me," an emotional Crawford said. "It's a great feeling to be able to walk out and know that you're cared about."
Each senior entered the arena to booming cheers, flanked by his family, as athletic director Jim Phillips presented a framed jersey to each of them.
After the ceremonies had ended, however, it turned into a night the Wildcats will most likely want to forget.
NU managed only 32 points, its lowest total of the season, and shot 23.3 percent from the field--also a season low. Alex Olah led the team with 14 points.
On a positive note, it was the 16th time this season NU held its opponent to 60 or fewer points--a testament to the tough defense that head coach Chris Collins has already implemented in his first year.
Both squads were plagued by slow starts. The score sat at 4-2 in Penn State's favor until the 15-minute mark of the opening half.
Crawford hit the first big shot of the night, a three-pointer from the right corner. He followed it up with a long jumper from the opposite side to bring the Cats back within three.
Midway through the first half, Penn State broke out of its offensive funk, but NU couldn't find its rhythm. With 12 minutes left, the Nittany Lions rattled off a 22-3 run.
Although six turnovers didn't help the Cats efforts, shooting stuck out as the biggest problem--NU hit only 22.2 percent of its shots in the first half, nearly 30 percent lower than the visiting team.
Sophomore Kale Abrahamson nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key with 27 seconds left in the period, halting a streak of eight straight points from Penn State, bringing Northwestern within 32-15 as the teams headed to the locker rooms at the break.
Halftime did nothing to slow down the visitors. The Nittany Lions quickly regained their 20-point lead and then some, pushing it to 27 midway through the second half.
Despite the lopsided score, many fans stuck around to bid the seniors farewell as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Crawford received his second resounding ovation of the night, as well as hugs and high-fives from the coaches and players on the bench.
"I'm sad that I only got to coach him for one year," Collins said. "I view him as a bridge from the previous success...I want him to feel proud when we get this thing going right the way we want to...that he can feel like he was a big part of it, because he is. He's the model of what we want this program to be about going forward."
For the final regular season game of the year, NU will head to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on the Purdue at 11 a.m. Central time Sunday. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
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