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Penn State 72, Nebraska 66: Survive and Advance

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The Nittany Lions rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to keep their season going.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Nebraska vs Penn State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight was your friendly reminder that yes, this is still very much Penn State basketball. Getting waxed in the first half by a Nebraska team that finished dead last in the conference and had seen their top scorer in Teddy Allen bolt before season’s end sure felt like peak Penn State basketball, at least.

Thanks to some god-awful perimeter defense, poor ball security, and lack of ability to hit shots themselves, Nebraska was able to break an early tie into a 12-0 run. The Huskers looked like a well-oiled machine against a Nittany Lion team that seemed as if they were poised to be a dangerous bunch in this tournament after their win at Maryland.

Nebraska shot a solid 47 percent from the floor while PSU managed a paltry 29 percent, which included an abysmal 2-for-15 shooting from three-point range. PSU also committed ten turnovers, many of which Nebraska converted into points. The result after 20 minutes of game action was a 37-23 halftime lead for the Huskers, their largest of the year.

What’s also been peak Penn State basketball as of late though, has been the ability to face adversity and never say die. That’s precisely what happened as the Lions came roaring out of the gates, scoring ten straight to open the half as Myreon Jones began to heat up from downtown and Sam Sessoms especially was a sparkplug off the bench on both ends of the floor.

Still, any time PSU cut the deficit to a single possession, Nebraska responded with a timely three-pointer. That all changed with a little under ten minutes to play in the game when Izaiah Brockington nailed a pair of free throws to give PSU their first lead since being up 3-0 in the first couple of minutes. From there, the game was a back-and-forth battle that teetered between a one-possession PSU lead and a one-possession Nebraska lead.

Eventually, it was Myles Dread who ironically nailed the biggest shot of the night, when he knocked down a trey to put PSU up by four points with less than three minutes to play. This, after misfiring on his first six attempts of the game. Nebraska would continue to misfire at inopportune times and PSU would make their free throws down the stretch to help stave off any potential last-minute rally by the Huskers. It sure wasn’t pretty at times, but this PSU squad that has played for each other all season long will have at least one more game together.

Four Factors

It’s clear as day that offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line far more than Nebraska were the main factors in tonight’s win. PSU finished with a whopping 14 offensive rebounds and went 23-of-29 from the free throw line, while Nebraska only had 11 attempts from the line. That’s what happens when you get the other team in foul trouble early in a half.

Player of the Game

Jamari Wheeler finished with 19 points (including three treys), six rebounds, and three assists. He was the only consistent scorer in the early going, keeping PSU from being even further embarrassed in the first half before Jones, Sessoms, and Izaiah Brockington began to heat up. For that, he’s your POTG.

Random Observations

  • Feel The Excitement of the Opening Round! - Part of a broadcaster’s job is to make an otherwise non-compelling game on paper sound interesting. BTN color analyst Stephen Bardo sure made it sound like it was a Final Four matchup with how excited he sounded breaking down the strategy of both teams during the game.
  • Making Those Damn Free Throws - PSU got Nebraska in very early foul trouble in the second half, getting into the bonus just under the 14-minute mark. The Lions took full advantage of this by penetrating frequently and drawing fouls, sending them to the free throw line. It also helped that they got a few key Nebraska players, including their top three-point shooter Thorir Thorbjarnarson to pick up four fouls and make them play much more cautiously defensively.
  • Let Us All Be Thankful - It was a year ago around this time that COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and within less than 24 hours, all sports had shut down. The mere fact that we are able to watch PSU hoops play their hearts out during Championship Week is something we should all be thankful for after realizing how quickly it can be taken away.

Up Next

The Nittany Lions (11-13, 8-12) face Wisconsin in the second round of the tournament. That game will tip off around 9:00 PM ET tomorrow night (Thursday) on BTN.