After 403 days and 26 straight losses, Nebraska finally got the chance to celebrate a Big Ten victory on Sunday as Fred Hoiberg’s Huskers escaped at Penn State with a 62-61 win.
The Huskers looked like they were going to cruise to victory after taking an 11-point lead with 32 minutes of pretty crisp offensive basketball. But this is Nebraska, and nothing can ever be easy.
The Huskers stopped scoring entirely as Penn State relied to take the lead in the final two minutes. Just like against Illinois, the game came down to one last possession, and this time Teddy Allen delivered.
Nebraska forced a turnover with 20 seconds to play and got the ball to Allen in the open floor. He pushed the ball ahead, attacked the basket and finished over the top of his defender to give the Huskers the lead with 12.3 to play. After a Penn State timeout, Nebraska got a stop to seal the victory, Hoiberg’s first on the road at Nebraska.
Allen led the Huskers with 14 points and spent much of the game striking a balance between making plays for himself and his teammates. He grabbed a team-high six rebounds and dished out three assists in addition to a number of kickoff passes that kept the offense flowing.
“That’s one thing we really stressed because they collapse on the ball,” Hoiberg said. “They do a great job, maybe as good as any, of taking charges and Teddy I thought really played under control …. He was outstanding in all aspects of the game. That’s something he can do — he did it early in the Illinois game where he kicked one out to Lat [Mayen] on the trail and didn’t try to drive through the pile. Teddy just made a huge play there at the end and that’s something he can do, making that type of play happen when there’s a lid on the basket because he’s that talented of a scorer and offensive player. To see Teddy play-make, that’s a huge step in the right direction.”
The Huskers (5-12, 1-9 Big Ten) had 19 assists on 27 field goals with seven players recording at least one assist in the game. Nebraska converted 48.2% of its shots from the field after shooting below 37% in each of its first four games back from the COVID-19 pause.
Kobe Webster scored 13 points in 29 minutes off the bench, shooting 5-of-12 from the field including 3-of-8 from deep. Trey McGowens chipped in 10 points, eight of which came in the first three minutes of the second half as he helped Nebraska come out of the locker room strong.
The Huskers held the Nittany Lions (7-10, 4-9) to 32.3% from the field including 29% from 3-point range, and Nebraska held Penn State scoreless for the final 1:58 as the Nittany Lions missed two shots and turned the ball over twice during that stretch.
“It’s much better to lose from a win, I’ll say that,” Hoiberg said. “We have plenty that we can learn from this one. I think we’re only the third team that has won in this building this year, so to come out after what we went through the other night on a short prep and continuing to fight and battle… Obviously we didn’t do it offensively those last eight minutes but I thought our defense was about as good as it’s been. So he had stretches offensively for about 32 minutes, phenomenal, and then that defense there late won the game for us.”
Nebraska couldn’t have gotten off to much worse of an offensive start. The Huskers turned the ball over on their first three possessions, and after Allen got them on the board with a tough fadeaway jumper, they missed their next four shots. Nebraska fell behind 7-2 right away, and the Nittany Lions pushed their lead as high as eight.
Nebraska settled in after the rough start, however, and started sharing the ball at a high level. Nebraska recorded an assist on 10 straight field goals, and by the end of that stretch the Huskers had pulled to within one score.
“I think that’s just something we’ve preached day in and day out,” said Webster, who had four of those assisted buckets in the first 13 minutes. “In the previous games I think we just got away from it. Obviously we’ve shown all year that when we do move the ball, we get the shots that we want. I think we just stuck with it tonight and stay consistent and committed to it and it worked in our favor.”
McGowens snapped that streak with a steal and breakaway dunk to tie the game up at 28-all. Penn State scored four straight to retake the lead before Banton asserted himself. He knocked down a 3 from the corner after some terrific ball movement by Nebraska. It was his first made 3-pointer since Christmas Day as he had gone 0-for-17 from deep in his previous seven games.
Banton took it to the rim for a layup on the next possession, then he found Yvan Ouedraogo for a dunk to complete a 7-0 Nebraska run and give the Huskers a 35-32 lead.
Penn State called timeout to draw up a set and got Myreon Jones loose for a 3 to tie the game. The Huskers couldn’t get a shot to fall at the buzzer and the two teams went back to their locker rooms level at 35-35.
The unselfish play continued into the second half as the Huskers recorded assists on their first three buckets. Nebraska continued to play well, pulling ahead by seven a handful of times including at 54-47 following a 3-pointer by Webster.
Then the offense ground to a halt. Nebraska went through a three-and-a-half minute scoring drought featuring four turnovers and three missed shots. Banton finally got the Huskers going again with a layup on a brilliant take to the basket, then Thorir Thorbjarnarson hit Derrick Walker with a pocket pass for a dunk. Allen took it to the rim on the next possession for a layup to put Nebraska up 60-49 with just under nine minutes to play.
The offense completely fell apart after that, however. Penn State threw out a zone pressure to disrupt Nebraska’s offensive flow and it worked perfectly. The pressure forced turnovers and disrupted Nebraska’s man and ball movement, and it led to some ugly possessions.
Nebraska went nearly nine minutes without scoring a point, missing nine straight shots with five turnovers. Penn State continued to chip away at the lead throughout the drought, eventually pulling ahead on a four-point play by Myreon Jones with just under two minutes to play.
Nebraska missed two 3s on the next possession, giving Penn State the ball with 80 seconds to play. The Huskers gave up two offensive rebounds as the Nittany Lions took shots late in the shot clock, but the Huskers stuck with the defensive effort.
“I credit my guys today because we never fell apart,” Walker said. “As that stretch started coming down to the end, we came closer and closer together and that’s what helped us pull out that win tonight.”
On Penn State’s third attempt to score, Jones tried to drive at Webster, but Banton dug in from the corner and knocked the ball free. Walker dove on the floor and knocked the ball over to Webster he passed it ahead to Allen with 20 seconds to play, setting the stage for Allen’s go-ahead bucket.
Penn State had 12 seconds to work with, and after a timeout with 8.3 on the clock, the Nittany Lions ran a play to get Izaiah Brockington the ball to run off a double-screen, turn the corner and attack. Brockington got past Allen but Walker stepped in, challenging the shot and knocking the ball free to McGowens, who Penn State fouled with 1.6 to go.
“As a big, you see everything and I’m down there at the rim,” Walker said. “It is my job to be there, but this is a team game and my teammates rely on me just as much as I rely on them. Just towards the end, just doing my job, making the right play, trying to stay out of foul trouble. That’s just all I was focused on, just getting a stop so we could get the ball back and hopefully get a score up.”
Nebraska got the ball in to Allen and he ran right past the defense before a Nittany Lion managed to foul him, and Allen continued running right into the tunnel as Nebraska celebrated the end of its conference losing streak.
“I told them we were going to win the game,” Hoiberg said about the struggles down the stretch. “That was one thing, I just wanted to instill the confidence in them. Never once did they waiver in the huddles, never once were they pointing fingers or going back and forth. They just said let’s continue to get it done defensively and that’s the most encouraging thing is we didn’t let our poor offensive execution in those last eight minutes affect the way that we guarded them on the other end. That was the game.”
Nebraska won’t get much time to celebrate the win, however. The Huskers are heading even farther east as Nebraska is scheduled to play-back-to-back games at Maryland next.
“I couldn’t be happier for these guys for finding a way to get over the hump, and the feeling,” Hoiberg said. “The other thing I reminded them of is as we talked about after the Illinois game, the two hardest things to put behind you are big, emotional losses like we had the other night, and we found a way to do it, and then big wins like we had tonight.
“We’re going to enjoy it, believe me. We’re going to enjoy it today. We’re flying to Maryland this afternoon. We’ll get them together. We’ve got to make sure they take care of their bodies with the back-to-back, finishing this incredible stretch that we’re on right now. And then we’ve got to bounce back with a good day of prep tomorrow and put this one behind us.”
Tipoff for game one is set for 6 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network on Tuesday.