Nebraska followed up one of the worst offensive first halves of the season with one of its best against Penn State then turned the game into a rout in the second half as the Huskers pulled away for an 82-66 win against the Nittany Lions at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday night.
The Huskers shot 55.4 percent from the field for the game, including 66.7 percent inside the arc, four players reached double figures and 10 players in total cracked the scoring column as Nebraska improved to 5-8 in the Big Ten and 11-14 overall.
Nebraska never trailed as the Huskers downed the Nittany Lions (14-13, 6-8) in front of a Valentine’s Day crowd of 13,195.
The Huskers looked inside early and often as freshman center Jordy Tshimanga hit three of his first four shots and scored six quick points to lead Nebraska to an 11-6 advantage at the first media timeout.
The Nittany Lions cut their deficit to two five times over the next six minutes but never got over the hump and Nebraska took its first double-digit lead of the game with a 10-2 run that put them up 34-24 with 6:53 to play.
The lead bounced between seven and nine points until a 3-pointer by Penn State freshman point guard Tony Carr pulled the Nittany Lions within four. However, Nebraska freshman forward Jeriah Horne countered with a triple of his own.
After a stop, the Huskers had the ball with 13.5 to play. Tshimanga tried to run a hand-off for senior guard Tai Webster, but the two couldn’t connect and Penn State took the loose ball the other way for a layup with about four seconds to play. Nebraska immediately in-bounded the ball to Wesbter, who pushed it ahead to sophomore forward Jack McVeigh near midcourt. McVeigh fired it up just before the buzzer and buried it to put the Huskers up 45-37.
Nebraska scored the first two buckets of the second half to stretch the lead to 11just over two minutes in and the Nittany Lions never drew closer than nine again.
The Huskers delivered the knock-out blow around the 12 minute mark as sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr. converted a difficult three-point play in transition then freshman forward Isaiah Roby threw down back-to-back dunks to stretch the lead to 16. After another stop, McVeigh hit a pair of free throws to cap the 9-0 run.
“Because we were able to get transition, Roby had those two plays in a row that really kept momentum in the second half when you really could have got lulled into — and that stretched the lead,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Those were big plays. They show his athleticism, and why we need him because he is so good in transition. He keeps running. He can run the floor all day. Some guys can run the floor the first six, seven minutes, but Roby can go all day.”
The lead hit 20 at the 7:55 mark and reached its peak of 24 at 80-56 with 3:48 to play.
With the lead secure, Miles sent in his four walk-ons — Malcolm Laws, Jason Shultis, Mohammad Elradi and Tanner Borchardt, and 20 seconds after stepping on the floor Elradi took it to the basket for his first points as a Husker.
“It was great,” Miles said. “If you knew Mo Elradi’s life story, to have him get a bucket for the Huskers is just happen.
Nebraska held Penn State to 31 percent from the field in the second half.
“The last eight minutes you’re like ‘try not to get too paranoid,’” Miles said. “We had such good pace the whole game, and I thought our guys were fairly locked in on the defensive game plan. Early on, we allowed way too many points, but I thought we were much better in the second half. I thought it was important to go out and get a good start at the rim.”
The Huskers took it to the basket all game long and dominated points in the paint to the tune of 46-28. They dished out 18 assists as a team, their second-highest total of the season. Sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr. and McVeigh tied for team-high honors with 15 points apiece, while Tshimanga and Webster added 12 points apiece. Watson and Webster combined for 11 assists while Tshimanga led the Huskers with seven rebounds and committed zero fouls for the second time in his career.
Tshimanga has reached double figures in three of his last four games and has grabbed seven or more boards in all four.
“[Tshimanga is] starting to click,” Webster said. “Guys are finding him in spots where he can really be effective. We’re finally seeing what Coach Miles brought him here to do. He’s been playing well and staying out of foul trouble. Obviously, that has been a big emphasis for him because he brings such a defensive presence for us. I think the numbers when he’s on the court, he’s in our best five when we need defense. Just staying away from those fouls is where we need him because he can get in there and play more minutes and be more productive for us. Plus it takes a lot of pressure off of me and [Glynn Watson Jr.] to have a big guy be in there to just throw it up to.”
Carr led the Nittany Lions with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but the rest of the team combined for 51 points on 18-of-52 shooting and they shot 4-of-20 from deep overall.
“Nebraska played terrific,” Penn State Coach Pat Chambers said. “They did a great job. It seemed like everything was going right for them. The last time we gave up 45 points in the half, it has been a while. They moved a lot quicker. They cut with a purpose. And obviously in the second half, they did a nice job guarding us. I knew we had to make eight 3s to stay in this game because of their defensive style. We didn’t make shots. They made a lot of shots. So give them credit.”
The Huskers will hit the road for next for a pair of rematches. Nebraska will head to Columbus, Ohio on Saturday for a 5 p.m. tip-off against Ohio State before visiting East Lansing on Tuesday to take on Michigan State at 6 p.m.
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.