The Nebraska basketball team is hitting the road for a rare Friday night game as the Huskers are set to take on Penn State in State College. Both teams are 12-6 so far this season but Nebraska is one game up in the Big Ten with a 3-2 record after beating Wisconsin in Lincoln on Tuesday. The Nittany Lions (2-3) are coming off of a loss at Indiana.
“The Friday game’s a little unique,” Coach Tim Miles said. “I don’t know if I’ve had one of those since my Division II days, but at the same time we’re excited to go out. Penn State’s one of those teams that I think was predicted to be strong. They’ve been really good and they’ve had some tough times. It’ll be a good road test for us to see and gauge our advancement and see how we’re doing as a team.”
Penn State is built around a spectacular sophomore class headlined by Penn State’s top three scorers in point guard Tony Carr (18.9 points, 4.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game), wing Lamar Stevens (15.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game) and center Mike Watkins (12.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game).
“Tony is a terrific player, a big, strong guard,” Miles said. “He’s got a huge potential. Mike Watkins at the center spot — I think he blocked like eight of our shots in the Big Ten Tournament. And then you’ve got Lamar Stevens who is playing really well.”
Carr is a match-up nightmare as a 6-foot-5, 204-pound floor general who is shooting 47.8 percent from 3 this season. Senior guards Evan Taylor (6-foot-5) and Anton Gill (6-foot-3) will likely draw the primary assignment on Carr.
“He’s a really good player,” Taylor said. “He plays with really good pace. You never speed him up, you don’t turn him over, he’s just a steady guard. He’s added elements to his game from last year. I look forward to the challenge and the match-up.”
Carr is the driving force behind the Nittany Lions as he is shooting 60.5 percent from 3 and dishing out 5.7 assists in wins compared to 32.3 percent from 3 and 3.0 assists per game in losses.
The Nittany Lions could be without starting guard Josh Reaves who missed Penn State’s game at Indiana while dealing with academic concerns. His status for Friday is still up in the air, although Miles said he’s operating as if Reaves is going to play. The 6-foot-4 junior is contributing 10.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game and shooting 42.9 percent from 3 this season.
Nebraska will be without a starter as well as sophomore center Jordy Tshimanga did not make the trip as his future with the team is in doubt.
Defensively, Penn State is holding opponents to 65.3 points per game this season. Watkins’ rim protection at 6-foot-9 is a big part of that (Penn State is sixth in the country in blocks) but their ball pressure is unequally responsible as the Nittany Lions are 10th in the country in steals. Reaves potential absence hurts in that area of the game as well, however, as he leads the team with 2.4 steals per game.
“Penn State can really guard you with pressure and it’s like almost a feast or famine,” Miles said. “I think they lead the league in steals but yet you can get one high percentage shots off of that too.”
The Huskers are preparing for a completely different experience than what they encountered in their last road game at Purdue as the Bryce Jorden Center usually produces a more subdued atmosphere.
“It will be less energetic in terms of that sheer enthusiasm for the game,” Miles said. “It’s a larger facility; they don’t quite draw as well so it’s a little quieter — big spacious empty spots that noise goes to die. You have to bring your own energy, your team’s got to be talking to each other, they have to be ready to go from the hop because Pat Chambers’ teams always play really hard no matter what. They create energy like crazy.”
Taylor said it is important for the starting five to come out ready to go, but he also pointed to the bench as an important source of energy.
“It starts with the starting five — me, myself being a captain — but also our bench,” Taylor said. “Our bench has been great this year. The louder they are, the more into the game they are, I think that the players on the court feed into that.”
Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. on Friday on BTN. Brandon Gaudin and Jon Crispin will have the call.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.