The basketball gods added injury to the insult of defeat on Saturday afternoon as the Huskers lost senior guard Emmanuel Bandoumel to an apparent knee injury less than seven minutes into a 76-65 loss at Penn State.
After falling behind by six at halftime, Nebraska tied the game early in the second half. However, without their top two defenders in Bandoumel and Juwan Gary, who is out for the season, the Huskers couldn’t get enough stops down the stretch to hang around.
Nebraska (10-10, 3-6 Big Ten) outscored Penn State (13-6, 4-4) by 12 in the paint, but the Nittany Lions hit their average of 11 made 3-pointers (connecting at a 36.7% clip) while the Huskers only hit six (shooting 27.3%) and missed 11 of their 24 free throws included a pair of bonus front ends.
“Obviously we got it going again in the second half from the field,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said during his post-game radio interview. “First half, it continues to be a trend; I thought we had some good looks and we’re not converting them for whatever reason in the first 20. And then second half, we shot 54%.
“When you miss that amount of free throws on the road, and they got it going, obviously, shooting 68% in the second half after shooting 33 in the first. If you don’t convert the free ones, then you’re going to have trouble winning. You miss 11 free throws and you lose a game by 11. So it’s just frustrating that you get to the line 24 times, which is what you want. We got the ball inside, obviously Derrick had an advantage in there. But we’ve just got to find a way to convert and knock down those free ones and give ourselves a chance.”
Derrick Walker led Nebraska with 20 points on 9-of-14 from the field and 2-of-4 from the line, six rebounds and six assists. Keisei Tominaga added 13 points (all in the second half) while C.J. Wilcher nearly matched him with 11 on 4-for-6 from the field (3-for-5 from 3). Sam Griesel scored 11 points as well while adding a career-high five steals, five rebounds and four assists to his stat line.
Freshmen Denim Dawson (four points and a career-high nine rebounds) and Jamarques Lawrence (two points, four rebounds) shot a combined 1-for-9 from the foul line and 1-for-5 inside the arc while Wilhelm Breidenbach missed all four of his field goals, scoring just two points at the foul line.
The Huskers forced Penn State’s star point guard Jalen Pickett into seven turnovers, but he also put up 12 points, 13 rebounds and five assists while Andrew Funk went off for 23 points on 8-of-13 from the field (5-of-10 from 3) and 2-of-2 form the foul line. Forward Seth Lundy added 16 points, going 3-for-7 from deep.
A nightmare first few minutes for Nebraska featured a 3-for-3 start from deep for the Nittany Lions including a four-point play from Funk on the first possession of the game for a 10-0 lead.
After jumpers on its first three possessions, however, Nebraska looked to get the ball inside to Walker and he scored three straight interior buckets before Bandoumel added a spinning layup of his own for an 8-0 run.
Then disaster struck as Bandoumel’s left leg buckled on a drive to the rim. He went down grabbing at his left knee and had to be helped back to the locker room, putting little, if any, weight on his left leg.
After five straight misses from deep for the Nittany Lions, Funk connected again, his third triple, to get Penn Sate back on the board. Nebraska pushed back with a 7-2 run to tie the game up for the first time at 15-15, then lost Funk again for another trey.
The teams traded blows with the Nittany Lions extending the lead to seven on a Pickett layup (just the second 2-pointer of the day). Dawson answered with a 3 (just Nebraska’s second triple of the day) and Funk misfired on a 3 to give Nebraska a chance to cut into the lead further with less than a minute to go in the half.
However, Nebraska turned the ball over, triggering a Penn State fast break and a three-point play from Funk to push it back to seven. Dawson drew a foul with less than five seconds to go and split the free throws to make it a 29-23 Penn State lead at halftime.
Nebraska scored 12 points in the paint but went 2-for-9 from 3 and 5-for-11 from the foul line. Penn State scored four points in the paint (while shooting 3-of-10 inside the arc) and only hit two free throws but went 7-for-20 from 3. Funk had 16 of Penn State’s 29 at the break.
Walker went to work and Wilcher caught fire early in the second half, combining for a 10-4 run to tie the game up at 33-all less than four minutes into the half. However, Lundy knocked down a 3 on the other end to trigger a 10-3 Nittany Lions response.
Penn State found a groove offensively with that run and continued to extend its lead out to 11 at 52-41 with a 7-0 run.
Then Tominaga joined the party, scoring 11 points during a 13-5 Nebraska run including a pair of 3s and a three-point play to cut the deficit down to three at 57-54.
Nebraska ran out of offense at that point, however, as the Huskers managed to make just one field goal in the next five and a half minutes (while also missing four of their seven free throws). The Nittany Lions took advantage to stretch the lead to 13 with three minutes to play.
Nebraska cut it down to seven with a 6-0 run including dunks from Walker and Griesel, but the Cornhuskers ran out of time.
Walker (14 points), Tominaga (13) and Wilcher (eight) all had a big second half, but Nebraska didn’t get enough stops for it to matter.
“Keisei got it going a little bit in the second half,” Hoiberg said. “It’s good to see C.J. knock down some shots and guys looking for him and finding him. Derrick, again, he had an advantage, they played him one-on-one a lot of the night … We need to have 40 solid minutes on both both ends of the floor if we’re going to have a chance to win it.”
Penn State shot 17-of-25 (68%) from the field in the second half, scoring 20 points in the paint and only attempting 10 3s, hitting four. Nebraska shot 53.6% overall in the second half but only 4-of-13 from 3 and missed five more free throws including a front end of the bonus.
Hoiberg said after the game that the initial evaluation “didn’t look good” for Bandoumel, but they have further tests planned for Sunday.
“We’re going to have to have everybody be ready to step up,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll get more word on Emmanuel tomorrow or on Monday, but there are going to have to be guys that step up if he is indeed out of the lineup for an extended period.”
Nebraska’s next scheduled game is Tuesday with Northwestern visiting Lincoln, but the Wildcats were not able to play their previous two games because of combined COVID-19 and injury issues that depleted the roster.
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.