Nebraska has won two straight games and now faces a quick turnaround in its search for a third as the Huskers will hit the road for a return trip to Penn State on Tuesday.
The Huskers beat the Nittany Lions 70-64 at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Jan. 10, the last time they cracked the 70-point barrier.
Over the past seven seasons, Nebraska is 5-0 against the Nittany Lions at home, it’s 0-2 on neutral courts (the Big Ten Tournament) and it has lost four straight at Penn State. It’s last win in State College was on Jan. 19, 2013.
“You’ve got to take the fight to Penn State because I think Pat Chambers does a great job getting those guys ready and they’re a tough-minded group,” Coach Tim Miles said. “It’s been a hard place to win. Obviously, we’ve had all these close games, but I think we need to get out to a quick start. That’s the thing that we failed doing the last three times we’ve been there. We got a huge deficit early and then had to fight our way back out of that hole.”
Senior guard James Palmer Jr. offered his thoughts on why Penn State is a tough place to play.
“Just because they don’t have a good fan base and there aren’t many fans in the crowd like here in Nebraska and other places,” Palmer said. “We’ve got to bring our own energy and just be ready to play from the beginning.”
Miles said his team needs to use that lack of atmosphere as an advantage rather than letting it drain them of energy. The Huskers won in Lincoln earlier this season despite allowing 21 offensive rebounds, and the glass is a big focus for the Huskers heading into this one.
“We’re going to need to have our best rebounding effort,” Miles said. “Twenty-one offensive rebounds just is not acceptable. You just can’t do that. I think that was time where we were really loose. We had been at Iowa and let them score 90 and then we were at home . . . We were really loose so we’re trying to tighten up the rebounding, team defense, transition defense, not letting [Josh] Reaves get to his left, you name it.”
Penn State is currently 9-16 overall and last in the Big Ten at 2-12, but Miles said the Huskers aren’t taking them lightly.
“I haven’t looked at the standings,” Miles said. “They’re a tough-minded group. They have all kinds of talent. Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, the two young kids — Myles Dread is a great shooter, [Rasir] Bolton is a very quick player. They’ve got a lot of good things going for them.”
Stevens, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward, is their leading scorer at 19.2 points per game but he’s only shooting 41.5 percent from he field and 20 percent from 3. In the first game against Nebraska, Stevens finished with 13 points on 6-of-20 shooting as Isaiah Roby switched onto him and more or less shut him down during the stretch run of the game.
Reaves led the way with 20 points including 4-of-7 from deep but he’s only averaging 10 points on the season. Reaves’ biggest value is on the defensive end and he held Palmer to 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Nebraska will need a team offensive effort with tough sledding likely for Palmer again.
Against the Wildcats on Saturday, Tim Miles didn’t make a substitution in the second half, riding his starters for the whole 20 minutes. That unit has played a lot of minutes all season long, but in particular since Isaac Copeland Jr. went down.
“We’ve kept practices shorter,” Miles said. “We’ve tried to get them in and out. You worry about it but there’s not a lot I’m going to do about it or be able to do about it right now. You can’t add personnel in the college game late. So we’ll just see how it goes. I’m worried, but there’s not a lot I can do about it. I’m going to continue to get guys in the game, play eight for sure, maybe nine, and hopefully we can get them in the second half too.”
The Penn State game starts a stretch of five straight quadrant one games to close out the regular season, meaning the door looks to be at least slightly ajar if the Huskers can put together some wins.
“I’m excited about this stretch run here and we’ve just got to get as many wins as we can regardless of the opponent or location,” Miles said.
Tipoff on Tuesday is set for 6 p.m. on FS1 with Lisa Byington and Nick Bahe 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.