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Huskers Battle Penn State in B1G Tournament

Huskers Battle Penn State in B1G Tournament
(Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications)

The Nebraska men’s basketball team heads to Indianapolis for the 2021 Big Ten Tournament Presented by SoFi this week. The Huskers, who are the No. 14 seed, will take on No. 11 seed Penn State Wednesday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. Tipoff is set for approximately 25 minutes following the first game between Northwestern and Minnesota.

Fans can follow all of the action across the state of Nebraska on the Learfield IMG College Husker Sports Network with Kent Pavelka and Jake Muhleisen on the call. The game will also be available on Huskers.com, the Huskers app and TuneIn radio. The pregame show begins one hour prior to tipoff.

The teams played two entertaining games during the regular season. NU posted a 62-61 win in State College on Feb. 14, while the Nittany Lions won 86-83 in Lincoln on Feb. 23.

Nebraska (7-19, 3-16 Big Ten) comes off a heart-breaking 79-78 loss at Northwestern on Sunday afternoon. The Huskers overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to take a 75-71 lead with 2:22 remaining, only to see the Wildcats rally and win the game on a putback from Ryan Young with 2.7 seconds remaining.

Kobe Webster led NU with 23 points, including 7-of-12 from 3-point range, and five assists while Trey McGowens added 15 points and five assists. NU went 14-of-33 from 3-point range, including 9-of-19 in the second half, and dished out 21 assists.

Nebraska’s offense has played better down the stretch, averaging 74.2 points per game in the Huskers’ last six games dating back to Feb. 23. NU is shooting 47 percent from the floor, including 39 percent from 3-point range, and averaging over 16 assists per game. NU went 2-4 in its last six games, while two of the losses came by a combined four points.

Penn State (10-13, 7-12) comes to Indianapolis winners of three of its last four games, including wins over Minnesota and Maryland last week. The Nittany Lions overcame a 16-point deficit to beat Maryland, 66-61, on Sunday behind a 31-point effort from Seth Lundy and 17 from Myreon Jones.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT
Indianapolis native Kobe Webster is playing his best basketball over the last two weeks. He is averaging 13 points per game on 44 percent shooting over the last five games dating back to Feb. 25. He is also shooting 49 percent from 3-point range and has four double-figure efforts in that span.

NUMBERS TO KNOW
.385 – Over the last five games, NU is shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range and averaging 10.0 3-pointers per game. Nebraska hit a season-high 14 3-pointers against Northwestern, its highest total since hitting 14 against Creighton on Dec. 8, 2018.

3 – Lat Mayen’s double-double against Iowa (14 points/13 rebounds) was the third by a Husker this season and the first since Dec. 17.

6 – Nebraska has six games with at least 10 steals this season following an 11-steal effort against Rutgers. NU had just two in 2019-20. The Huskers are third in the Big Ten with 7.1 steals per game entering the Big Ten Tournament.

10 – The Huskers have had 10 players reach double figures at least once this year as Thorir Thorbjarnarson became the latest to do it on Feb. 27.

12 – Number of 20-point games by Nebraska players this season. Kobe Webster had his second of the year in a 23-point effort at Northwestern. Other Huskers with 20-point games in 2020-21 include Lat Mayen-1, Trey McGowens-1 and Teddy Allen-8.

33 – Nebraska is 33rd nationally in tempo according to KenPom as of March 7. The Huskers and Illinois (88th) are the only two Big Ten teams in the top-100 nationally in adjusted tempo.

SCOUTING PENN STATE
The Nittany Lions are led by interim coach Jim Ferry, who was on the staff for three seasons before being named the interim coach in the fall. Ferry has been a collegiate head coach for 20 seasons, including stops at Plymouth (N.H.) State, Adelphi (N.Y.), Long Island University-Brooklyn and Duquesne.

Penn State returned four starters from a team that went 21-10 and was on its way to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011 before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2019-20 season. The Nittany Lions went 3-1 in non-conference play including a 20-point win at Virginia Tech and a three-point win over VCU. The only blemish was a 92-88 overtime loss to Seton Hall. PSU was 0-3 in conference play when the Nittany Lions had to pause in early January, but are 7-9 since returning to action on Jan. 17. Penn State won three of its final four games with the only loss coming at home to Purdue.

The Nittany Lions use an eight-man rotation which features a trio of double-figure scorers in Myreon Jones (15.5 ppg), Izaiah Brockington (12.7 ppg) and Seth Lundy (10.3 ppg) and three others that average at least 7.5 points per game. Jones, Lundy and Myles Dread have combined for 137 of PSU’s 207 3-pointers on the season. John Harrar averages 9.0 points on 56 percent shooting and a team-high 8.5 rebounds per game. PSU is disruptive on the defensive end, ranking second in the Big Ten with 8.0 steals per game.

Series History: Wednesday’s game is the 23rd meeting with Penn State holding a 12-10 advantage. Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the Huskers are 9-10 against the Nittany Lions (9-8 in regular season; 0-2 in Big Ten Tournament). The teams played three times before Nebraska joined the Big Ten, a home-and-home series in 1980 and 1981 and in the second round of the 1995 NIT. Penn State’s 76-64 win in Lincoln last year was its first since the 1995 NIT. This will be the third time the programs have meet in the opening round with Penn State taking wins in 2015 and 2017.

Feb. 14 (Nebraska 62, Penn State 61): Nebraska built an 11-point second-half lead and held on, as the Huskers escaped Penn State with a 62-61 win on Feb. 14.
Nebraska led 60-49 before the Nittany Lions scored 12 straight to take a 61-60 lead on Myreon Jones’ four-point play with 1:58 remaining. PSU led with just under 20 seconds left when Nebraska forced a turnover and Allen drove for the go-ahead hoop. The Huskers, who held Penn State to 32 percent shooting, got the stop they needed on the final possession on a steal from Trey McGowens with 1.8 seconds remaining. The win snapped NU’s 26-game Big Ten losing streak and was the Huskers’ first road win since Jan. 14, 2019. Allen led three Huskers in double figures with 14 points, while Kobe Webster and McGowens added 13 and 10 points, respectively, as Nebraska picked up its first win in University Park since 2013.

The Huskers took control by opening the second half on a 10-2 run, taking a 45-38 lead after five straight points from McGowens, who had eight of his 10 points in the surge. PSU eventually cut the margin to 54-49 on a Seth Lundy basket, but Nebraska rattled off six straight points to build a seemingly comfortable 60-49 cushion after Allen’s basket with 8:43 left.

Nebraska, which was shooting 56 percent at that point in the game, went ice cold, as Penn State clawed back. NU went over 8:30 without a basket, as the hosts inched closer before Jones’ four-point play gave PSU its first lead of the half.

Feb. 23 (Penn State 86, Nebraska 83): Teddy Allen put on a record-breaking performance, as the Huskers took Penn State down to the wire before falling 86-83. Allen finished with a career-high 41 points on 16-of-24 shooting, as his 41 points was one shy of the school mark of 42 by Eric Piatkowski.

Allen fueled the Huskers in the first half, scoring 28 points in 19 minutes of action as the Huskers trailed 39-38 at the break. Nebraska spotted PSU an 8-0 lead before Allen led the Husker charge, scoring 13 points, as the Huskers battled back and tied it at 17. From that point in the half to halftime, neither team led by more than five points, as Allen and Penn State’s Myreon Jones combined for 45 first-half points.

Nebraska took the lead at 48-47 with just under 15 minutes remaining, but PSU used an 11-0 burst to take a 58-48 lead on a Myles Dread 3-pointer with 12:39 left. Trailing 70-64, consecutive 3-pointers from Trey McGowens and Thorir Thorbjarnarson tied it at 70 before Penn State took control. The visitors used an 11-4 run to push it to 81-74 with 53 seconds left on a pair of Jones free throws. The Huskers had one last run, as McGowens sank a pair of free throws before Thorbjarnarson got a steal and hit both free throws to make it a four-point deficit. After Jones split a pair of free throws, McGowens’ 3-point play made it 82-81 with 22.2 seconds left. Nebraska had one final chance down 86-83, but McGowens, who finished with 17 points, could not hit the game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds.

LAST TIME OUT
Kobe Webster had a season-high 23 points and five assists, as Nebraska rallied back from a 16-point deficit but Ryan Young’s putback with 2.7 seconds left lifted Northwestern to a 79-78 victory over Nebraska on March 7.

Webster scored 20 of his 23-points in the second half, as the Huskers erased a 39-30 halftime deficit and began their comeback. The senior guard hit a pair of 3-pointers in a 13-4 run in the first four minutes of the second half to get NU within 45-43.

Nebraska trailed 65-56 before the Huskers used a 14-2 run to take its first lead since the opening minutes, as Webster’s 3-pointer put NU ahead 68-67 before Lat Mayen’s two free throws made it 70-67 with 3:53 remaining.

The Huskers eventually led 75-71 on Derrick Walker’s putback with 2:22 left, but the Wildcats would rally. Chase Audige’s 3-pointer started a 6-0 run that put the Wildcats up 77-75 on Boo Buie’s free throw with 1:11 left. Nebraska would regain the lead on a three-point play from Trey McGowens with 1:00 remaining to go up 78-77. The Huskers had a chance to stretch the lead, but a turnover on the next possession gave the Wildcats one final shot with 11.5 seconds left. NU forced Pete
Nance into a tough shot, but Young was there for the game winner.

Trey McGowens joined Webster in double figures with 15 markers and also dished out five of the Huskers’ 21 assists. Audige led six Northwestern players in double figures with 14.

STORYLINES
• Nebraska Head Coach Fred Hoiberg returns to Indianapolis, the city where his NBA career began. Hoiberg was a second-round pick of the Indiana Pacers in 1995 and spent the first four seasons of his career in Indianapolis (1995-96 to 1998-99).

• Wednesday’s game is a homecoming for a pair of Indiana natives. Kobe Webster (Indianapolis) has played in all 26 games and is averaging 8.0 points and 1.3 assists per game, while Trevor Lakes (Lebanon) has played in 13 games since becoming eligible on Dec. 17, and is averaging 3.1 points per game while shooting 33 percent from 3-point range. Nebraska was scheduled to play at Purdue during the regular season, but that game was canceled because of COVID-19.

• After being on COVID-19 pause from Jan. 11-Feb. 6, the Huskers finished the regular season by playing 14 games in the final 30 days of the season, including 11 in the final 22 days of February. It has been referred to as an NBA schedule, but only eight NBA teams have played more games than Nebraska from Feb. 6-March 7. Nebraska played 19 of its 20 scheduled Big Ten games, including consecutive games at Maryland on Feb. 16-17.

• Nebraska’s strength of schedule ranks fourth nationally by KenPom as of March 8. The 2020-21 season marks the second straight season NU has had a strength of schedule in the top 10 nationally in KenPom. NU’s schedule was eighth in 2019-20. The Huskers are just one of only two teams nationally (also Minnesota) to have top-10 strength of schedules by KenPom in each of the last two years.

• The Big Ten had nine teams in the top 40 of the NET rankings entering this week’s Big Ten Tournament, including four in the top 10. This season, 12 of the Huskers’ 19 losses have been Quad 1 losses. Nebraska’s game against Penn State will be NU’s 21st game against a Quad 1 or 2 opponent this year.

• Nebraska’s two seniors have stepped up in recent weeks. Kobe Webster is averaging 10.1 points per game and shooting 45 percent from 3-point range over the last 10 contests. He has reached double figures five times in that stretch, including 17 points at No. 5 Iowa on Thursday and a season-high 23 points at Northwestern. Thorir Thorbjarnarson is averaging 5.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game in NU’s last seven contests dating back to Feb. 20. He averaged 5.3 assists per game in NU’s three games last week.

• Nebraska has gotten improved production from its posts in recent games. Derrick Walker is averaging 8.3 ppg on 67 percent shooting and 5.5 rebounds per game over the past six contests, while freshman Eduardo Andre is chipping in 4.7 points on 80 percent shooting and 3.2 rebounds per game in that same span.

• Nebraska has been much better defensively since returning from its pause last month. Over the last 14 games, NU has held seven opponents to 40 percent shooting, while two teams shot over 50 percent from the floor. NU allowed 6.7 fewer points per game over the past 14 games, while holding teams to 42 percent shooting, including 30 percent from 3-point range.

Defensive Improvement Since Pause
When FG Pct. 3PT. Pct Reb PPG
Pre Pause .477 .341 -8.0 81.0
Post Pause .423 .304 -4.5 74.3
• NU enters the Big Ten Tournament with 8.4 3-pointers per game which is on pace to rank second in school history. It is not surprising that Nebraska has relied on its 3-point shooting in Hoiberg’s tenure, as his Iowa State teams led the Big 12 in 3-pointers in four of his five seasons at the school. Nebraska’s 219 3-pointers ranks eighth in school history, and NU is two 3-pointers away from climbing into sixth place and 16 from fifth.

Most 3-Pointers/Game in School History
No. School Games 3-Pointers/Game
1. 2001-02 28 9.54
– 2019-20 26 8.42
2. 2019-20 32 7.90
3. 2006-07 31 7.87
• One of the biggest improvements throughout the season has been the Huskers’ 3-point shooting. NU has shot 37 percent from 3-point range over the last 11 games dating back to Feb. 12 after shooting just 31 percent in the first 15 games of the season. NU finished Big Ten play sixth in 3-point percentage (.342) and fifth in 3-pointers per game (8.1) in conference games only.

3-Point Improvement
Games 3/GM Pct.
1-5 8.6 .299
6-10 8.6 .309
11-15 5.8 .326
16-20 8.8 .358
21-26 10.0 .385
• The biggest beneficiary of Derrick Walker’s addition is Lat Mayen, who moved to his natural stretch four spot after playing in the post for the first half of the season. In the 15 games since Walker returned, Mayen is averaging 10.2 points per game on 44 percent shooting and 4.6 rebounds per game. In NU’s first four conference games, he averaged just 5.5 ppg on 31 percent shooting. Mayen averaged 15.3 points per game on 50 percent shooting in three games last week, including a double-double against No. 14 Iowa and a career-high 25 points against Rutgers on March 1.

Mayen Since Walker Became Eligible
When PPG FG Pct 3-Pct. RPG
Last 15 Games 10.2 .443 .407 4.6
First 11 Games 5.5 .307 .176 2.5
• Six current members of the Nebraska basketball team were honored on Feb. 19 with spots on the Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll. The Huskers on the list include Lat Mayen, Chris McGraw, Jace Piatkowski, Bret Porter, Thorir Thorbjarnarson, Derrick Walker and Kobe Webster. All Husker student-athletes combined for a school-record fall GPA of 3.325.

DOC FIXES HUSKER DEFENSE
Nebraska has made significant improvements defensively during the 2020-21 season under assistant coach Doc Sadler. One year after ranking 152nd nationally in adjusted defense by KenPom, NU is 40th nationally as of Monday. In Big Ten action, the Huskers have made significant improvement across the board.

• Nebraska ranks 40th nationally in adjusted defense according to KenPom, which would be the best in Fred Hoiberg’s seven seasons as a college basketball coach. Previously his best defensive team was the 2013-14 Iowa State squad (55th), when Sadler was on the Cyclone staff. It would also be NU’s highest ranking since the 2015-16 season.

• In Sadler’s six seasons as head coach at Nebraska (2007-12), the Huskers ranked in the top-25 nationally in defensive efficiency three times, including 15th nationally in 2008-09 and 19th in 2007-08.

NU’s Big Ten Numbers
Category 2020-21 2019-20
PPG 76.1 79.4
Opp. FG Pct. .435 .462
Adjusted Efficiency 105.2 108.5
Opp. 3-Pt. Pct. .313 .340
Rebound Margin -5.4 -9.7
70 Points or Less 6 2Big Ten Games

NEWCOMERS MAKING AN IMPACT
Nebraska knew it would be relying on newcomers with only three returnees on the 2020-21 roster. In the offseason, the Huskers added four scholarship players with previous Division I experience, as well as Division II transfer Trevor Lakes.

• Nebraska’s top seven scorers by average are all newcomers. In all, 90 percent of the Huskers’ offense and more than 80 percent of its rebounds have come from players who did not play at Nebraska last season.

• 77 of Nebraska’s 79 double-figure efforts this season have been by players in their first season of competition at NU. Thorir Thorbjarnarson’s 10-point effort against Minnesota was only the second double-figure effort by a Husker returnee this season and first since Yvan Ouedraogo’s double-double vs. Doane on Dec. 17.

• According to KenPom, NU’s returnees have played just 17.0 percent of total minutes this season, a total which ranks 327th nationally and last in the Big Ten. Every other Big Ten team had at least 43 percent or more as of March 5. It is also the fourth-fewest percentage among any power conference team in the country.

MAKING THE EXTRA PASS
While the Huskers have struggled with turnovers throughout the season, NU has done a much better job of ball movement in recent games. Over the past four games, NU is averaging 18.3 assists per game, including 21 against Northwestern and 19 each against Rutgers and Minnesota.

• NU has had excellent distribution over the past three games with Thorir Thorbjarnarson (4.3 apg), Trey McGowens (3.8 apg), Kobe Webster (3.0 apg) and Dalano Banton (2.8 apg) all averaging at least 2.5 assists per game in that stretch.

• In Nebraska’s conference wins over the last two years, NU has averaged 19.0 assists per game, while the number drops to 12.8 in the Huskers’ Big Ten losses under Hoiberg.

• Hoiberg’s first two Iowa State teams ranked third and fourth in the Big 12 in assists before leading the conference in each of his final three seasons at the school (2013-14-15).

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