That one was tough to take for Nebraska.
Penn State entered the day winless at home in Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions had won their last two games, but the record was 6-7 on the year, 3-6 in Big Ten play, and 0-5 on their home court against conference foes.
Nebraska was on the outside of the bubble looking in, projected as a “first four out” team trending up. Sophomore forward and second-leading scorer Issie Bourne was making her return to the court after a four-game absence, freshman wing Kendall Coley was progressing toward a role, and health was generally trending in the right direction.
Nebraska let Penn State run in the first half. The Nittany Lions wanted to put the game in the 80s. Nebraska all season has wanted to play slow and methodical. Wear on the opponent with defense and limit transition opportunities. Play in the 50s or 60s? Coach Amy Williams is happy.
Penn State had 44 at the halftime break. But Nebraska was right there. Offense was cold to start, but picked up throughout; Nebraska was able to keep pace. A 12-0 run late in the third quarter gave NU a brief lead and sent the game to the fourth with a one-point margin.
Up for the taking.
Penn State took it.
Nebraska led with 3:39 to play, a 71-68 lead following a triple from Bourne. Penn State walked away with an 85-74 win.
That was a 17-3 run to close the game that included an 11-0 spurt to put Nebraska in choppy waters.
The biggest issue? Forward Johnasia Cash.
With Husker center Kate Cain in the game, Nebraska was competent inside against the Penn State senior. When Cain sat, Cash went to work. She scored the Nittany Lions’ final eight points in the first quarter and 13 of their 26 in the fourth quarter.
Cash ended the game with 27 points and 19 rebounds. She was 9-for-16 from the field and 8-for-13 from the charity stripe. When she was on the court, Penn State outscored Nebraska by 14. When Cain—who had 21 points, seven boards and five blocks—sat, Nebraska was outscored by 10.
Cash won the battle of the bigs. Nebraska couldn’t keep her out of the paint. Cain was in foul trouble all night and Cash took advantage.
Lead guard Sam Haiby finished with just 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting, but added eight boards and five assists. Bourne had nine points and nine boards in her return, but shot 3-for-11 from the field and just 2-for-6 from the free throw line. As a team, Nebraska shot 4-for-12 from the charity stripe.
Penn State was 26-for-32.
It’s a tough loss that will go on a Husker resume that has some gems but now two eyesores. After an upset win over Ohio State, Nebraska dropped a 76-71 home game to a 2-7 (at the time) Minnesota squad.
It’ll help to play Rutgers (5-3, 1-3 Big Ten) on the road on Sunday at 1 p.m. CT. The Scarlet Knights haven’t played since a Jan. 3 trip to Lincoln that ended in a 53-50 Husker win. NU hasn’t yet had a game postponed this season because of COVID-19, but Sunday might test that streak. The Scarlet Knights have had eight straight called off because of problems within their program, including Thursday’s contest with Indiana.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.