Penn State holds on in Big Ten opener
From staff reports
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.–The Penn State men’s basketball team (11-13, 7-12) used a fierce second-half comeback to win its Big Ten Tournament opener over Nebraska (7-20, 3-16) 72-66 Wednesday night. Led by senior guard Jamari Wheeler’s career-high 19 points, the Nittany Lions outscored Nebraska 49-29 in the second half to combat a 15-point first-half deficit.
Trailing 37-23 at the break, Penn State opened the second half with baskets by four different Nittany Lions to fuel a 10-0 start. PSU extended the run to 15-2 to cut the Husker lead to just one, 39-38. Penn State tied the game at 47 and again at 50 before taking a 51-50 lead at the 9:27 mark. After a brief Nebraska lead at 54-53, four-straight free throws put them up 57-56 with one final tie at 59 all.
“It was a tough first half for us, but you have to give great credit to Nebraska, they really came out and set the tone, they were flying around all over the place,” said Penn State men’s basketball interim head coach Jim Ferry. “…On our end, we had 10 turnovers in the first half and we couldn’t make an open shot. I am really proud of these guys. We came in at halftime and (said), ‘we’ve been here before, we can do this,’ but we just had to get back to being who we were and making sure everybody was just doing their job…We grinded it back and we took the lead…you could tell in our guys’ eyes in the huddles that they weren’t going to give this one up.”
The Nittany Lions’ aggressive offensive approach put them into the bonus at the 13:18 mark of the second half and they went 20-24 from the foul line, including a 12-12 mark. Penn State sprinkled in a couple of baskets to stay just ahead of Nebraska in the final minutes.
Junior guards Izaiah Brockington and Myreon Jones combined for 28 points, all coming in the second half. Jones and Wheeler had six of Penn State’s seven 3-pointers with junior guard Myles Dread adding one at the 2:48 mark for a 63-59 Nittany Lion lead.
The Penn State defense forced the Huskers to shoot from the outside in the second half and limited the Huskers to 3-16 shooting from beyond the arc. Penn State’s energized defensive effort in the half limited second chance opportunities for the Huskers as the Nittany Lions outrebounded Nebraska at a 43-27 clip.
Penn State saw four score in double figures as junior guard Sam Sessoms added 11 points off the bench. Senior forward John Harrar again led the effort on the glass, with the game high and tied his career high with 14 boards.
Trey McGowens led the Huskers in scoring with 13 points on 4-8 shooting. He went to the bench for a chunk of the second half and was one of four Nebraska players to finish the game with four fouls.
The Nittany Lions got off to a slow start and a strong opening period for the Huskers put PSU down by a dozen at the 10:55 mark after the teams were tied at 8-8. Nebraska held a double-digit lead, but Sessoms had two baskets to bring it down to 8 at the 6:27 mark. The Huskers countered with two field goals by Walker and Thorir Thorbjarnarson’s third triple for a 15-point lead, 33-18. The two teams traded baskets and misses as Penn State was 2-7 and Nebraska 2-6 in the 3:10 before halftime.
After an uncharacteristic 10 turnovers in the first half, which led to 17 Husker points, Penn State only committed four turnovers in the second half.
Penn State advances to the second round to face No. 6 seed Wisconsin Thursday at approximately 9 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.