EVANSTON, Ill. -- 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 Red Land High School graduate 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, 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 road Big Ten 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 last 10.
Alex Marcotullio, who scored a career-high 22 points, put the Wildcats ahead 54-53 with a 3-pointer with 6:13 to play. But Penn State scored the next six points, beginning with Sasa Borovnjak's short jumper, and scored 13 of the game's last 18 points. Borovnjak had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Penn State.
"I never saw our heads go down," Marshall said. "We stayed the course. We knew that we were going to win that game."
The Nittany Lions' dominance on the boards included 10 offensive rebounds accounting for 11 second-chance points.
Reggie Hearn, who scored 11 points before fouling out with 3:07 to play, was the only other Northwestern player in double figures.
Newbill opened the game with a jumper and a 3-pointer to kick off Penn State's 12-point outburst. Northwestern rallied to take the lead for the first time on Kyle Abrahamson's layup with 4:46 left in a sloppy first half. His basket capped a 9-0 run that included a game-tying 3-pointer by Dave Sobolewski. It was one of the few sequences of quality play by either team in a half that included 10 turnovers by each team.
Penn State came back and led 34-30 at the half after Marshall's drive to the basket in the final seconds. The last four points started an 11-point Lions run that extended into the second half.
Marcotullio's previous career high was an 18-point showing against Minnesota on March 2, 2011.
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.