Penn State never trailed in this game, but that doesn’t mean there was a lack of drama. The Lions appeared to be the better team throughout this first-round matchup but they fumbled away multiple opportunities to put the game away late in the second half.
Nebraska’s star guards Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr. struggled in the final 20 minutes of regulation, but Watson took advantage of Penn State miscues and crushed an off-balance three-pointer to tie the game at 58-58 with a minute to play. After the teams traded buckets, Tony Carr had a chance to win the game but tossed the ball out of bounds while trying to hit a layup in traffic. That sent the game into overtime with the score tied 60-60.
In the extra period, Penn State wasted no time reestablishing dominance with a three-pointer from Lamar Stevens and a pair of free throws by Josh Reaves. Later, after Shep Garner hit a three-pointer of his own, Mike Watkins blocked Ed Morrow in the post and Stevens stopped Watson on a fast break to ensure that the game remained out of reach for the Huskers.
Penn State raced out to a 27-16 lead in this one thanks to Carr creating off the bounce and Watkins doing work down low. However, Nebraska answered with 14-3 run to tie the game at 30-30 thanks to Tai Webster scoring in transition. The Lions bounced back to take a 38-33 lead at halftime, but it could have been a bigger cushion of they did a better job of keeping the Huskers off the offensive glass.
Both offenses cooled off considerably to start the second half, but Garner hit a pair of three-pointers to give Penn State a 10-point lead with 11 minutes to play. Nebraska answered by shutting down Carr down the stretch and whittling its way back into the game for an exciting finish to regulation.
Nebraska was dominant on the offensive glass early on, but Penn State caught up with some great boxing out in the final 25 minutes. Instead, the Huskers had to force turnovers in order to come from behind. It might have worked if the Lions hadn’t been so good from the free throw line. They went 21-for-26 from there, and while it certainly helped that Penn State was playing from ahead the whole game, you have to give the Nittany Lion defense credit for holding Webster to just three free throw attempts all game.
Player of the Game
It was probably Watkins’s best game as a Nittany Lions, as the redshirt freshman set a Big Ten Tournament record with eight blocks while also scoring 18 points and securing 11 rebounds (four on offense). He did an amazing job of avoiding fouls while still protecting the paint, and while he’s not adept at creating his own offense yet, he did well when he was set up by Carr and others.
- With Carr struggling down the stretch, I thought Stevens could have been more assertive as a scorer. He finished with 16 points on nine field goal attempts, but he should have seen the ball more in crunch time.
- Terrence Samuel is finally back to playing regular rotation minutes, and he made some nice passes in this game to finish with three assists. Samuel isn’t going to blow anyone away with his game, but his presence was welcome for a team that desperately needs guys who can help off the bench.
- Carr did a good job filling up the box score with 11 points, nine rebounds, and six assists, but he also missed his final 10 field goal attempts after starting the game 3-for-3. His three-point shots in particular were quite ugly, and you’d like to see him rely on his teammates more when the ball’s not going in for him. Still, the kid has a chance to be an absolute stud next year if he just improves his jumper a little bit.
The Lions are moving on to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament! They’ll face Michigan State at around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon (not long after the conclusion of the Illinois vs. Michigan game) from the Verizon Center. The game will be televised on BTN!