Penn State Basketball never trailed in a 76-65 victory over Nebraska in front of 11,297 at the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday afternoon.
The Nittany Lions started the game hot on a 10-0 run before going ice cold and only scoring 3 points over the next 8 minutes.
Penn State Basketball was able to take a 29-23 lead into the half despite the poor shooting and it opened up from there. The Nittany Lions found their inside game in the second half and never let the Cornhuskers take the lead.
Andrew Funk led all scorers with 23 points that included 5 three pointers. Jalen Pickett finished with another double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Penn State Basketball needed this win to stay on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament picture.
Penn State Basketball Takeaways From Win Over Nebraska
Micah Shrewsberry Shows Emotion
The Penn State Basketball head coach was fired up from the start of this one.
Shortly after the Nittany Lions jumped out to a 10-0 lead, the Cornhuskers used a timeout to make adjustments.
What followed was an 8-0 run for Nebraska that resulted in Coach Micah Shrewsberry screaming at freshman Evan Mahaffey on the sideline and even slamming down one of the timeout chairs. On the previous possession Jalen Pickett had drawn a double team and passed the ball to a spot that should have been an easy layup or dunk for Mahaffey, but the freshman didn’t move to the spot and the pay resulted in a turnover.
Later in the first half with the offense struggling, Shrewsberry looked to be doing everything but physically grab Dallion Johnson and Kanye Clary during a timeout after a frustrating offensive possession. It wasn’t just the freshmen that were getting coached up, senior Camren Wynter made a poor pass in the second half that resulted in the ball being thrown out of bounds and Shrewsberry pulled him to the side and coached him up away from the rest of the team.
The average fan may just think that some of these instances are just classic coaching moments, and they may be in most circumstances.
However, as someone who has attended almost every home game this season this is the most vocal, I have seen Shrewsberry both on the sideline and in the huddle.
Shrewsberry was clearly frustrated with how his team was playing against an inferior opponent and wanted to make sure his guys knew it. I can only imagine what was said in that locker room but the turnovers were cleaned up and the team scored 47 points in the second half so it seems the players responded.
Kebba Njie Benched
The freshman forward has struggled for points this season against the more physical big men in the Big Ten.
That is in part to his slighter frame and just his overall inexperience as a true freshman. The progression from the 6-foot-10 Njie has been up to what Penn State fans had hoped for.
Njie has had trouble on the offensive ball catching the ball cleanly inside the paint and doesn’t seem to have the quick reflexes needed to play in the quick ball movement that is this offense. Defensively Njie has gotten better but still struggles due to his weight disadvantage.
Saturday, the freshmen struggled mightily early on both ends of the floor and was the main reason for a few turnovers. After starting the game and playing the first 5 minutes, Njie was benched and never returned to the game. Henn came in for about a minute and we even saw Caleb Dorsey play 9 minutes in his 1st action since December 22nd against Quinnipiac. Shrewsberry opted to go small for much of the 2nd half with Mahaffey in foul trouble and Njie on the bench resulting in Myles Dread playing 24 minutes.
What does this benching mean for Njie? It could be Shrewsberry sending a message to the young freshman that he isn’t entitled to start and still has to earn his way into that role. It could also mean that maybe Caleb Dorsey who was the preseason starter will get more run in the upcoming games. We won’t know until the starting lineups are announced on Tuesday against Rutgers just how serious the benching was.
Back in the NCAA Tournament Field
With Saturday’s win, Penn State Basketball finds itself back into the NCAA Tournament field as a last four in by many projections.
The Nittany Lions now sit at #48 in the NET and are 4 spots ahead of the projected cutoff which is currently at #51.
Heading into the weekend Penn State was in the first four out according to ESPN, Fox, and the Bracketologists website. CBS Sports did have Penn State as a 12-seed in the play-in game against Wake Forest prior to the win over Nebraska. After the win over the Cornhuskers, the bracketologist ranking also moved Penn State up into that position and projects them to play Utah in the 1st four in Dayton. There is obviously still a lot of time left to move in either direction but the Nittany Lions have plenty of Quad 1 opportunities to solidify themselves in the 68 team field.
What is Next?
Penn State Basketball will go back on the road to Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, NJ to face No. 23 Rutgers 13-6 (5-3) on Tuesday night.
The game will be at 6:30 pm ET on BTN and will be another opportunity to pick up a Quad 1 win. Rutgers is 11-2 at home this season and Penn State is 1-3 on the road with the loan win coming against Illinois in early December.