Huskers finally end losing skid with 62-61 win at Penn State
Playing its fifth game in its fourth state in nine days, Nebraska could have easily been running on fumes and going through the motions when it traveled to take on Penn State on Sunday afternoon.
Instead, the Huskers battled for a full 40 minutes and snapped a 26-game Big Ten Conference losing streak with a 62-61 victory.
After leading by as many as 11 points with 8:43 remaining, NU suddenly hit an 8:31 scoring drought and allowed the Nittany Lions to go on a 12-0 run and take a 61-60 lead on a four-point play by Myreon Jones with 1:58 remaining.
But after a steal by Derrick Walker with 20 seconds to go, Teddy Allen hit a contested runner off the glass with 8.3 seconds left to reclaim the lead. Walker knocked the ball loose again for another steal on PSU’s final possession to put the game away.
Nebraska’s last league win came back on Jan. 7, 2020, a 76-70 home victory over Iowa. It was also NU’s first true Big Ten road victory since January 14, 2019, at Indiana and its first win in State College, Penn., since 2013.
The game got off to an ugly start for Nebraska, as it missed four of its first five shots with three turnovers in the first four minutes.
But the Huskers eventually settled down and took their first lead of the day on a 3-pointer by Dalano Banton that made it 32-31 with 2:30 left in the half. That was Banton’s first made 3-pointer in his last 17 attempts dating back to Dec. 25, 2020, vs. Michigan.
A bucket by Yvan Ouedraogo put NU up by three with 1:23 to go, but Penn State tied it up at 35-35 going into halftime on a 3-pointer by Myles Dread with just 12 seconds on the clock.
Nebraska ended up shooting 50 percent from the field in the first half, assisting on 12 of its 15 made baskets.
The Huskers kept on rolling into the second half, as they quickly took their largest lead of the day at 60-49 on a layup by Allen with 8:43 left while Penn State started half 1-for-7 from the field.
That marked NU’s second double-digit lead in Big Ten play, with the only other coming in the league opener at Wisconsin on Dec. 23, 2020.
As well as Nebraska had played up to that point, though, it suddenly went ice-cold from there and didn’t score a point until Allen’s eventual game-winner.
Penn State chipped away at the lead over the next six minutes and went up on Jones’ 3-pointer and foul with 1:58 to go.
But the Huskers came up with key stop after stop from there, and Walker’s steal with 20 seconds left set up Allen to take the ball down the court – without NU calling a timeout – and take the lead for good.
Walker then sealed it by knocking the ball loose in the paint, and Trey McGowens came up with it with 1.6 seconds to play.
Allen led the way with a team-high 14 assists, six rebounds, and three assists, while Kobe Webster scored 13 in 29 minutes off the bench with three made 3-pointers. McGowens added 10 points and four assists, while Walker chipped in eight points and four boards.
Nebraska’s 18 assists (on 27 made baskets) on the day were its most in Big Ten play and its third-highest total of the season.
Jones led Penn State with a game-high 18 points, and Dread finished with 14 while making four of the team’s nine threes.
The Huskers will get to celebrate the win for roughly another 48 hours before returning for back-to-back road games at Maryland on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
1. For the first time all season, Nebraska found a way to win
Nebraska has had plenty of 10 to 20-minute stretches where it played high-level basketball that was more than good enough to win in the Big Ten.
But in the previous nine conference games and even in a few before league play, those runs were always accompanied by devastating meltdowns that ended in defeat.
Sunday was following that same recipe once again until the final seconds, as the Huskers seemed to be doing everything in their power to give a double-digit lead away down the stretch.
This time, though, NU stepped up with winning plays with it absolutely mattered the most.
As bad as the offense was over the final nine minutes, Nebraska’s defense was exceptional. Yes, Penn State used a 12-0 run to take the lead inside of two minutes remaining, but it also shot just 25 percent in the second half and ended the game missing nine of its final 11 shots.
Walker’s steal was the defensive play of the game, and then Allen followed it with the offensive play of the game to win it.
For the first time in more than 400 days, Nebraska has tangible evidence that it can win in the league. Sunday wasn’t a moral victory. It was a victory, and the Huskers couldn’t have needed it any more than now.
2. Defense has been the difference
As mentioned, Nebraska’s offense was as good as it’s been this season for the first 32 minutes against Penn State.
But when it came down to it, defense was what won the game.
Even while mounting their late comeback, the Nittany Lions shot just 8-for-32 from the field and 2-for-11 from 3-point range in the second half to go along with seven of their 12 turnovers.
The Huskers blocked four shots and nabbed five of their seven steals in the second half as well. They also went to a zone defense after halftime that gave PSU fits and helped push the lead up to 11.
Nebraska now ranks 53rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) at 95.1. They were up to fourth in the Big Ten in that category entering the game since coming back from their COVID-19 layoff.
If NU can continue to give that type of defensive effort the rest of the way while still playing roughly every 48 hours, it’s going to have a chance to add a few more wins to its record.
3. Webster, NU’s bench came up big
The win over Penn State was a full-team effort, and that’s because Nebraska’s bench finally came alive and produced from start to finish.
Led by Webster’s 13 points – his most since scoring 20 vs. Georgia Tech on Dec. 9, 2020 – the Huskers outscored PSU 21-10 in bench points. That marked their second-most bench scoring in Big Ten play behind only the 26 it had at Minnesota.
Along with Walker’s strong outing, backups Eduardo Andre and Yvan Ouedraogo combined for six points on 3-of-6 shooting and five rebounds, an assist, and a block in seven minutes of action each.
In all, NU’s bench out-rebounded Penn State’s 13-3.
In a grueling schedule that will only continue to get increasingly difficult, getting that kind of production beyond the starting lineup would be a significant boost.