Penn State fought hard, but dropped to 0-5 in Big 10 play after a 70-64 loss to Nebraska in Lincoln. With this win, the Cornhuskers extend their home win streak to 20 games. The Nittany Lions were looking for their first ever victory at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Once again things started off slow and low scoring. Unlike Sunday’s game against Wisconsin, however, Penn State was able to limit their turnovers with only three in the first half. Four early ones for Nebraska kept the game close despite outshooting the Nittany Lions.
With Penn State in desperate need points from someone other than Stevens, freshman Myles Dread stepped up. He shot 3-for-4 with eight points in the first half and finished the night with 13. With 9:17 left in the first half Josh Reaves capped off a 7-0 run for Penn State, giving the visitors a 19-14 lead, their largest of the half. Reaves entered the locker room with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. His offensive success was a welcome sight for Nittany Lion fans, and a continuation of these offensive performances could be key if Penn State is to turn their season around.
The Cornhuskers, who average 80 points per game, eventually got the offense going and quickly erased the Lions early lead, and went into halftime 33-31. Isaiah Roby, the Huskers top-ranked NBA prospect, led Nebraska with 10 points at the half.
Dread and Reaves keyed an 8-2 run to start the half to put Penn State to a 39-35 lead. The offense really picked up at about the 15-minute mark of the second half, and the game's most exciting stretch saw both teams playing near flawless offense leading to points on both ends. The Nittany Lions offense was led by Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins, including a dunk by Watkins that tied the game at 48 with 12:32 to go. Watkins played great minutes for Penn State, going 4-of-5 from the field with 12 points. He also tallied 14 rebounds, in what was the 23rd double-double of his career.
Every time it seemed Penn State made a big play, Nebraska answered. For the most part, it was the same guy, Isaiah Roby. After Watkins tied the game, Roby answered to give Nebraska a lead they would not relinquish. Whether it was blocking shots, making threes, dunking, or getting rebounds, Roby was everywhere on the court for the Huskers. He finished the day scoring a career-high 20 points on a near perfect 8-of-9 shooting. He also grabbed 11 rebounds.
The biggest sequence of the night came at the 2:15 mark. Glynn Watson Jr. attempted a three that rattled around every part of the rim before going in. While the shot was in the air, Josh Reaves surrendered a rebounding foul giving Nebraska the ball back. They did not score on the possession but managed to waste nearly 50 seconds thanks to an offensive rebound. On Penn State's next offensive possession, they appeared to have scored in two separate shots, but both were waived off due to a floor foul that happened just before the shot attempt. The Nittany Lions ultimately failed to score on the possession, allowing Nebraska to close out the game with four free throws by who else, Isaiah Roby.
While there are no moral victories at this point in the season, there was a lot to be optimistic about from this game. For one, Penn State was excellent on the boards. They out-rebounded Nebraska 46-32, including 21-6 on the offensive boards. It was also great to see some offensive production from Josh Reaves. His 20 points are a season-high, and the senior guard appeared to have a different level of confidence with the ball in his hand. Pinnacle Bank Arena is also not an easy place to play, and this is a very good Nebraska team that can really score. Penn State hung with them all the way to the end and gave themselves a chance to steal the game.
Penn State (7-9, 0-5) will still be searching for that first Big 10 win when they host No. 6 ranked Michigan State Sunday at 4:30 pm. Tom Izzo and his 14-2 Spartans will be a tough test for the Nittany Lions, who need a win more than ever. The big weekend game should result in a nice crowd for the Lions, who want nothing more than to give the fans a reason to storm the court.