Without Juwan Gary or Blaise Keita and with Derrick Walker fouling out with just eight points in 23 minutes, Nebraska found a way to knock off Ohio State on Wednesday.
The Huskers (10-9, 3-5 Big Ten) made the decisive run with Walker on the bench, and they did it with guys like Denim Dawson, Jamarques Lawrence and Oleg Kojenets providing the offense.
When Walker went to the bench, Ohio State attacked Nebraska’s smaller lineup inside with Zed Key, and Coach Fred Hoiberg countered by giving the 7-foot redshirt freshman Kojenets a chance. He scored on his first possession, his only points, but the Huskers were plus-6 in his five minutes.
“It’s hard to do when you sit for 30-plus minutes and then have to go out and be asked to make a big impact,” Hoiberg said. “You saw Oleg with no fear. He went in that first possession, drove it right to the basket on a nice seam, had a really good dive into the gap and then had a really good, strong finish. It’s what it’s all about for those guys is being ready when your name is called.
“Denim played a different role than he’s had and was very impactful in that win. Jamarques gave us great minutes and C.J. [Wilcher] and Keisei [Tominaga] in new roles, I thought, gave us great minutes as well. It’s what it’s all about. You talk a lot about a total team win, and I think that game against Ohio State was exactly what it was. Everybody that stepped on the floor scored, everybody contributed in their own way and we had to have it, obviously, in a one-possession game.”
Nebraska needs those contributions from the underclassmen to carry forward because the path doesn’t get any easier as the Huskers hit the road for a weekend trip to Happy Valley. Penn State is 12-6 overall this season including 3-4 in conference play, but the Nittany Lions are 9-1 at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“They really have a team that is incredibly difficult to prepare for because of all the different weapons that they have on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “Everybody that’s out there can make shots. They play different lineups — they play small, they play big and they just put you in a bind based on matchups out there on the floor. They run a lot of the same open stuff that we run with the floor spread. They’ve got guys that really shoot the ball at a high level; it doesn’t matter where you play them.
“They’re a great team and it’s a long flight for us. It’s an early game, we have to get ourselves going. It’s important to get off to good starts when you play those matinee games and I think you saw that in the Minnesota game. There are a lot of runs and we’ve got to find a way to play through that, especially on the road. The fact that we did get one on the road and in overtime, hopefully, gives us a little bit of confidence to know that we can do it. But these guys, that Indiana game, it was scary to watch. They made 18 3s in that game and had a lot of other open looks that certainly could have made 22 or 23 of them. They just have guys that really shoot the ball at a high level and they’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Penn State is 26th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom, largely because the Nittany Lions have the lowest turnover rate in the country (13%) and the sixth-highest 3-point percentage (39.6%) with the 14th-highest 3-point rate.
Forward Seth Lundy (17.7 points per game, 42.1% from 3), Bucknell transfer Andrew Funk (12.4 points per game, 41.8% from 3), Drexel transfer Camren Wynter (9.1 points per game, 37.3% from 3) and veteran guard Myles Dread (6.9 points per game, 43.7% from 3) are all deadly from deep, but everything for Penn State starts with senior point guard Jalen Pickett. The 6-foot-4, 209-pound fifth-year player is averaging 17.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists while shooting 49.8% from the field, 36.2% from 2 and 82% from the foul line.
“Pickett is one of the top players not only in our league, but in the country, and he’s so versatile,” Hoiberg said. “He’s the guy that they’re posting and they’re just looking for matchups. If they don’t think you can guard him, they’re just going to say we’re going to pick on you and we’re going to take you down to the post or we’re going to get you on the perimeter and drive it past and see what you do as far as help and making adjustments. His back-downs in transition, they run a lot of the old pistol action where they get him coming off and get him in the post on a back down with shooting.
“Their top five scorers are all shooting over 39% from 3 and I think they’re 42% as a team in league play, which is unbelievable. It all starts with Picket; if he can get a matchup that they like and you have to come and help and dig, he’s finding those shooters, averaging almost eight assists per game, eight rebounds and is a very good scorer of the basketball. So just really impressed with him and I think I think Micah [Shrewsberry] does a great job getting him in positions where he can use his strengths.”
Penn State has lost three of four, but all three losses were away from the Bryce Jordan Center and the Nittany Lions went 18-for-31 (58.1%) from 3 in the 19-point home win over Indiana on Jan. 11.
Tipoff is set for 1:15 p.m. CT in Saturday on Big Ten Network with Jason Ross Jr. and Jess Settles on the call.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.