In an electric atmosphere from start to finish, the Huskers (22-9, 13-5 Big Ten) put an exclamation point on their regular season with a 76-64 win over Penn State (19-12, 9-9 Big Ten) that secured a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament next week and established a new program record for conference wins in a season.
Here are a few takeaways from the performance.
Right From the Jump
There was talk the pressure — you know, playing what felt like their 61st game in a row they needed to win for their NCAA tournament chances — would crack them. That the Huskers would come out tight on Senior Day, or maybe a little timid, or maybe afraid of the moment.
Then the ball tipped.
Then Isaac Copeland got the ball.
Then Isaac Copeland smashed the rim.
Welcome to Pinnacle Bank Arena, Penn State. The Huskers are here to make your life miserable for the next 40 minutes. That was essentially the message right from the jump and it was shared very loudly, over and over again. It wasn’t quite a “No Sit Sunday Redux,” but the home Husker crowd brought it and Nebraska backed it up.
The Huskers stretched their halftime lead to 17, ballooned it as large as 21 in the second half and trailed for a grand total of zero minutes and zero seconds. Wire to wire.
The intensity took a dip to begin the second half, with the Huskers struggling to move the ball up the floor against a three-quarters court press from Penn State, but they eventually figured it out. Credit guard Glynn Watson Jr. for that; he finished with 11 points and three assists off the Husker bench. Oh, and while the offense was stuck in neutral, the Nittany Lions made up absolutely no ground on the scoreboard.
The Huskers were ready for this one. Let’s get this tournament started.
Putting the Clamps Down
Was new defensive coordinator Erik Chinander watching? He should have. He would have liked what he saw from Nebraska’s defense, especially in the game’s opening 20 minutes.
Much like Chinander’s aggressive, attacking brand of gridiron defense, the hardwood Huskers blitzed the Nittany Lions every single trip up the court en route to the lowest point total they’ve surrendered in a first half this season (17).
Go by the numbers and it looks even better. The Nittany Lions connected on 25.9 percent of their first-half looks. They turned it over 11 times and went scoreless for at least two minutes four times. They didn’t score a single point over a five-and-a-half minute stretch, hit a 3-pointer and then went another 3:18 before scoring again.
The Nittany Lions scored more in the second frame — at a much higher efficiency — but a 19-point second half from point guard Tony Carr and some, we’ll say, friendly whistles helped that cause.
That lead that was mentioned earlier, the one that never dropped below double-digits in the second half? Well, that happened because Nebraska consistently got stops on the other end, enough to buoy the offensive stalls.
Welcome Back Mr. Watson
I want to shout out the aforementioned Watson for a minute. He had 21 points and five boards against Penn State the first time around. He had 15 against Wisconsin on Jan. 29. Heck, he had 29 points against Minnesota way back in December. He’s had more than his 11-point performance nine times this season. But if you’re just looking at the points scored, you’re not seeing the whole picture.
Flashback to that two-minute spurt to begin the second half when the Huskers looked lethargic and Penn State opened on a 5-0 run. Watson replaced senior starter Evan Taylor and instantly there was an energy shift, on both ends of the floor.
The junior point guard picked up the offense and looked as aggressive and confident as he’s looked in a long time. His takes to the rim weren’t half-hearted and instead of trying to initiate contact like he’s done so frequently, he went right through it.
And on defense, Watson was a constant. He’s been tremendous on that end all season, leading to a career-low defensive rating this season and a career-high defensive win shares still with plenty of games left on the table.
Watson’s final line: 11 points (4-of-8 from the floor), five boards, three assists and a steal against just two turnovers. He also didn’t jack a single triple all night, and he was open for several.
It’s a confidence thing with Watson, and this has the potential to be springboard-type game for what needs to be a successful conference tournament run.
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.