Normally, a win over a bottom-half Big Ten team would not necessarily be considered a huge victory, but for a Nebraska team that had dropped eight of nine heading into Tuesday’s game with Penn State, an 82-66 win is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Not only did the Huskers win, but they blew the Nittany Lions out for their first double-digit win since the South Dakota game.
The last several press conferences have been tough to watch as the Huskers continued to find new ways to lose, but atmosphere was much lighter Tuesday night and the players even had a bit of fun as freshman center Jordy Tshimanga walked in late, rocking plenty of bling and announcing: “They call me 2 Chainz.”
However, the good vibes from this game will soon be forgotten if the Huskers fall right back into a slump to close out the season. With some winnable games coming up, Nebraska has to starting making some progress starting with Saturday’s game at Ohio State.
It also seems with every bit of good news this year comes ore bad, and that was true on Tuesday as well. After throwing down a couple of highlight-reel dunks, freshman forward Isaiah Roby checked back in late in the game and went up for an offensive rebound then appeared to roll his ankle when he hit the floor. He had to be helped first to the bench and then to the locker room. His status for Saturday looks to be doubtful. For a team already short on available bodies, losing the freshman who seemed to be finding his stride a bit is just another stroke of bad luck.
Fortunately for Nebraska, Jack McVeigh has stepped his game up tremendously and will likely play 30-plus minutes if Roby can’t go. After cracking double digits in just three of his first 17 games this season, McVeigh has scored 12 or more in four of his last seven. He’s shooting 42 percent from 3-point range in Big Ten play and has knocked down two or more treys six times in the Big ten so far. He provided one of the biggest highlights in the Penn State game with a halfcourt shot at the buzzer that put the Huskers up by eight going into halftime.
Since Tshimanga was first inserted into the starting lineup, the Huskers have made a conscious effort to get the ball to their big man inside early and often. Whether its been post-ups, pick-and-rolls or drive-and-dump-offs, the Huskers are putting their freshman in position to succeed and he is doing so. Tshimanga has started the last five games and has reached double figures scoring in three of those (including against Penn State with 12 points and seven rebounds) after doing so just once in his first 20 games off the bench. He has also shot 17-of-28 from the field during those five starts, well over 50 percent after the 6-foot-11 freshman had struggled to finish around the basket earlier in the season.
The Huskers shot 55.4 percent from the field and were above 60 percent well into the second half, and it had nothing to do with their perimeter shooting as the Huskers shot just 5-of-17 from deep. Following Tshimanga’s lead, Nebraska attacked, attacked, attacked all game and went right at the Nittany Lions who provided little resistance despite featuring one of the top shot-blockers in the Big ten in freshman Mike Watkins.
Finally, Glynn Watson Jr. had an incredibly effective and efficient game against the Nittany Lions. It wasn’t one of his biggest scoring games, but Nebraska doesn’t need him to go for 25-plus for them to win. They need him to take the right shots and make plays for others, and that is exactly what he did on Tuesday. Watson finished with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and five assists to no turnovers in 25 minutes. The five assists tied for his high in the Big Ten and it was just the fourth time in Big Ten play that he has surpassed three dimes. Nebraska is now 3-1 in games where Watson dishes out four or five assists. Watson is a talented player, but the Huskers are a better team when he’s a playmaker, not just a scorer.
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.