STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - For a moment following Northwestern's 87-77 win over Penn State on Tuesday, it sounded like Chris Collins was going to go down his lineup and offer praise for every player on the stat sheet in front of him.
He would've had good reason to do so.
The Wildcats (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten) blew past the Nittany Lions for their ninth straight win, looking like a team capable of doing damage in the Big Ten in the process. Northwestern started fast, maintained its rapid-transition game for much of the second half and built a big enough lead to withstand a gutsy late run from the Nittany Lions.
"The way we played in the first half was obviously the key to the game," Collins said. "We got off to a great start. I thought we were really sharp running our offense, sharp on the defensive end, got ourselves a lead."
Scottie Lindsey scored 17 of his 31 points in the first half, Vic Law added 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and Gavin Skelly and Bryant McIntosh chipped in 12 and 11 points, respectively, for the Wildcats.
Josh Reaves led Penn State (8-6, 0-1) with 22 points. Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens added 15 and 12, each.
Isiah Brown and Nathan Taphorn hit 3-pointers on back-to-back Northwestern possessions with less than a minute left in the first half to help build a 51-32 lead. Lindsey made 5 of 8 3-pointers, with three in the second half where the Wildcats led by 20 or more for long stretches.
"They came out and punched us in the mouth," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.
The Nittany Lions shot just 25 for 60 (41.7 percent) from the field. They mounted a 20-7 run to pull within nine over the final 5:16, capped by a layup and free throw from Shep Garner.
Northwestern's junior guard continued his masterful season. He's the only Wildcat to score in double figures in each game so far and appeared to be having plenty of fun, smiling and confidently nodding with each make.
"Probably the best game of his career," Collins said.
Penn State didn't have an answer for Lindsey's hot hand.
"Man, he was on fire," Chambers said. "We put multiple people on him and he still found the bottom of the basket."
SHUTTING DOWN THE VETS
Garner and fellow veteran Payton Banks combined for 14 points, their lowest combined total since they managed just 13 against George Washington on Nov. 26. It was the first time both players were held to single digits since the second game of the season on Nov. 13.
Northwestern's perimeter defense and a strong inside game from Law had a lot to do with that. Banks and Garner went 0-for-4 from 3-point range and had little room to work in the paint.
"We wanted to take away those two kids' 3s and make those other guys be their primary guys," Collins said. "I think us being able to keep Banks and Garner in single digits was huge."
THE BIG PICTURE
Northwestern: The Wildcats are on a roll. Their only two losses have come by a combined six points to teams ranked in the Top 25 and they appear to have all the parts to make a run at a Big Ten title. They'll be tested early with four of their next six on the road.
Penn State: Nittany Lions coach Pat Chambers said before the Big Ten season starter that he wouldn't know how a tough non-conference schedule would benefit his team that includes three freshmen starters. He'll likely need more time to evaluate as the Nittany Lions try to surpass the 7-11 Big Ten finish from last season, Chambers' best in his five full seasons in Happy Valley.
Northwestern travels to Michigan State on Friday.
Penn State plays at Rutgers on Sunday.