Nebraska is gearing up for one last game at Pinnacle Bank Arena this season as the Penn State Nittany Lions come to town on Sunday for a rematch.
Penn State beat the Huskers 76-74 in overtime in State College back on Jan. 12. Since then, the Huskers have gone 9-2.
However, the team Nebraska will face on Sunday will be quite different than the one from their first meeting.
Penn State Coach Pat Chambers has already publicly ruled out sophomore center Mike Watkins, a 6-foot-9 rim protector who put up 20 points and 15 rebounds in the first game against the Huskers.
“He hardly played against Purdue and they were right there,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Obviously he gives them some defensive rebounding, an athlete at the rim for blocking shots and offensive rebounding and scoring at the rim. But Julian Moore has played pretty well and they’ve had those other guys come in, [Satchel Pierce] and [John Harrar]. They have filled in and really, there’s enough talent to get by without Mike.
“I don’t know. Pat declaring him out? I’m sorry Pat. You’re the youngest of like 13 kids; somewhere in there there’s a guy that doesn’t always tell the exact truth.”
Watkins aside, the Nittany Lions will also have a key starter in round two that they went without in round one as junior wing Josh Reaves missed the previous game for academic reasons. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Reaves is one of the most disruptive defensive players in the Big Ten, averaging 2.3 steals to go with his 10.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
“He’s an excellent, elite defender, a super athlete, steals the ball, creates offense with steals, and you’ve really got to manage your way around him,” Miles said. “You can’t just run every action; if he’s in the middle of it, you’re like ‘That’s a bad idea; he needs to be over here and we need to be running this over there.’ You’ve really got to manage your way around him defensively.”
With Penn State, it starts with sophomore point guard Tony Carr, however, as the 6-foot-5 floor general is averaging 19.6 points, 4.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 46.6 percent from 3-point range. Carr hit the game-winner against Nebraska in the first game.
“He’s big and strong and can hurt you posting up and he can hurt you from 3 — he’s really improved his 3-point shot — and is great in screen-and-roll,” Miles said. “He is a next-level player. As we practice today, we’re practicing with that in mind.”
Nebraska can clinch the No. 4 seed for the Big ten Tournament prior to Sunday’s game if Michigan falls against Maryland on Saturday, but regardless of that result, Miles said the Huskers are playing it “like it’s a must-win.”
“We need to win as many games as we can, so regardless of what happens and what seed we are — I’d prefer to be fourth, but even if you’re fifth, fine, let’s go, see if we can win that game and then see if can win the other,” Miles said.
The last time Nebraska had so much riding on the regular-season finale was the 2013-14 season, the fabled “No-Sit Sunday” win against Wisconsin. Miles said this year’s game has a slightly different feel to it, however.
“That one was different because, quite frankly, we were new to the party,” Miles said. “We had had about a five-week run at that time, four-week run, and this has been a longer kind of period of winning basketball, it feels like anyway. That was just such a captivating experience. I don’t know if you can ever recreate that. Now, Sunday will be hoppin’. It’s a huge game. It’s a very talented team. But I supposed it’s like comparing children, right? You don’t do that, you just love them all. We’re going to love what happens Sunday.”
As the last game of the season at Pinnacle Bank Arena, the game also serves as Senior Day for Nebraska’s four seniors — Evan Taylor, Anton Gill, Duby Okeke and Malcolm Laws. Miles had previously hinted at a potential starting line-up change based on the significance of the day, but he was not ready to announce anything on Friday.
“I just haven’t talked thoroughly about it with the guys so I don’t want to go there yet, but I want to treat our seniors right,” Miles said.
Tipoff on Sunday is set for 4:15 on BTN with Kevin Kugler and Shon Morris on the call. Senior Day festivities will begin at approximately 3:50 p.m. and the first 2,000 fans to arrive will receive #Benchmob T-shirts in honor of the recent celebrations by the bench after big plays by the Huskers on the floor.
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.