Nebraska’s season pretty much just ended. That’s the main thought. The Huskers, in front of an 80 percent empty arena in State College, Pennsylvania, lost their 12th game of the season Tuesday night to Penn State, 95-71.
Penn State, the worst team in the Big Ten coming in record-wise, never trailed and moved to 10-16 overall, 3-12 in league play. Nebraska dropped to 15-12, 5-11 in league play.
Here are three takes from the result.
Kill the Tourney Talk
There was a bunch of chatter heading into this game about the Huskers having newfound NCAA Tournament life after back-to-back wins. Penn State, because it was on the road, would be a Quad 1 win for NU, who was 1-8 in such games entering the day. With Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa as the final four teams on the schedule (all ranked), Penn State was a must-win if we wanted to realistically have that conversation.
On a podcast Monday, head coach Tim Miles said he thought Nebraska needed three wins. Okay, well, that wouldn’t be impossible if the Huskers beat the Nittany Lions. It would mean you have to go 2-2 in the final four, with two on the road and two at home. Improbable, but not impossible.
Now you need to go 3-1. Given the way the Huskers have played in this calendar year, that feels about as likely as Bill Belichick calling me tomorrow and asking me to come replace Tom Brady.
The Huskers needed a strong start against Penn State on the road; Miles often talks about the importance of the first eight minutes. NU was down 19-12 after the first eight minutes Tuesday night, and that deficit grew to as large as 23 in the second half. The guards didn’t shoot it well (James Palmer Jr. had 24 on 20 shots and Glynn Watson Jr. disappeared again) and the offense turned it over 11 times. Bigs were in foul trouble, which forced Nebraska to play uber small, which meant the Huskers were going to get killed on the glass.
It’ll go down as the worst loss of the season.
During the telecast, commentators compared the Huskers’ recent slide (10 losses in the last 14 games) to that of Oklahoma’s last year. The Sooners lost eight of their last 10 games and stilled earned a 10-seed in the Big Dance. Several have connected Nebraska to last year’s Oklahoma.
But there are two huge differences between the teams. First, OU had a ratings magnet in point guard Trae Young. A future NBA lottery pick, Young was must-see TV. The tournament’s broadcast partners wanted that. Second, Oklahoma had six Q1 wins and two on the road.
Nebraska has one Q1 win and its best player, Palmer, is down to 36.8 percent shooting on the season.
There are four chances for huge wins left on the schedule, sure, but nothing about their most recent game suggests those wins are coming.
Maybe Guard the Triple?
In eight road games, Nebraska has played only three teams who shoot the 3-ball at a top-100 rate nationally (Iowa, Purdue, and Maryland). Four of the teams are currently outside the top-250 in 3-point shooting percentage.
Penn State came in at No. 319 in the country, shooting 31 percent on the season.
So… how does a team like that come out and hit 11 triples at a 50 percent rate?
Because, for whatever reason, Nebraska’s defense doesn’t travel on the road. It really is strange. NU shot 33 percent at home the last time out and I wrote about how good it was defensively. Then they come on the road and give up 95 points (a season-high for PSU) on 56 percent shooting.
Part of the problem is the Huskers are letting everyone — not just Penn State — get into a rhythm shooting early on. And defending the 3-point line has been a serious issue.
In eight games, the Huskers have given up 59 triples (seven made a game) at a 39.9 percent rate. That’s including a 2-for-14 performance put up by Indiana. There are only six Division I programs shooting better than that from deep this season. And the Huskers have allowed that kind of efficiency against some of the worst-shooting teams in not just the Big Ten, but the country.
Penn State came out firing, hitting six in the first half. Guard Myles Dread hit a tough one over Isaiah Roby late in the second half. Guard Josh Reaves hit another tough one over Watson a few minutes later. Guard Myreon Jones hit one a few moments later over a contest from Johnny Trueblood. Contested, yes, but that’s what happens when you let a team get into a shooting rhythm.
They get hot. And they get confident. And they start hitting shots that can bury you.
Penn State buried Nebraska from beyond the arc, but they were just the latest in a long line of sides to do so against the visiting Huskers.
Offense, Still a Problem
Nebraska broke the 70-point threshold for the first time since Jan. 10 (a good day) and shot 47 percent and it still looked like they were out of sorts and out of rhythm and out of their comfort zone all night.
There are still scoring droughts and Nebraska is back to being unable to finish at the rim (14-for-27; Palmer missed some gimmies) and there are too many guys on the floor at any given time who are complete offensive liabilities.
Four guys took 10 shots each. Roby was the only one to shoot over 50 percent and he finished a minus-27 in 33 minutes.
There’s just not much else to say about it at this point.
Next game is against No. 15 Purdue (19-7, 12-3 Big Ten) at home on Saturday, Feb. 23. Tip is set for 3 p.m. CT.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.