For 20 minutes, the Nebraska Cornhuskers played like a team eager to stay for a while in Indianapolis; then halftime hit, and for the next 20 minutes they played like the 14 seed in the 14-team Big Ten Tournament, giving away a 14-point halftime advantage in a season-ending 72-66 loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions on Wednesday night.
Junior Trey McGowens led three Huskers in double figures with 13 points. The two seniors, Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Kobe Webster, added 12 apiece in what may be their final college game.
Early on, Nebraska (7-20) defended themselves into a 15-point lead at 35-20 with 2:14 remaining in the first half, turning over Penn State (11-13) ten times while committing only five fouls before the break. The Nittany Lions shot just 28% from the field in the half, including 13% from deep. The result was a commanding 37-23 Big Red halftime lead. The 23 points was the second-best half of the season only to 21 second-half points from North Dakota State on November 28.
Like much of the 2020-21 season, the second half did not go the way Nebraska wanted it to.
Myreon Jones and Izaiah Brockington, both of whom were held scoreless in the first half, came out of the locker room ready to flip the script. Jones hit a 3-pointer, then Brockington a mid-range jumper. They each scored 14 second-half points. Jamari Wheeler, who led all scorers with 19, hit another three. A John Harrar layup finally prompted a Fred Hoiberg timeout.
As good as Nebraska’s defense was in the first half, it was equally bad to start the second half. Over eight minutes, Penn State scored 22 points after only managing 23 over the first 20 minutes. They also drew eight fouls compared to just five from the first half. To make matters worse, Nebraska turned It over on offense five times in that same stretch, and Penn State was within striking distance.
With 9:27 to go, Izaiah Brockington gave the lead back to the Nittany Lions at 51-50. It was NU’s largest blown lead in a postseason game since the 2014 Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal loss to Ohio State, in which the 4th-seeded Huskers led by 18 points with 13:45 remaining in the second half. NU lost by four, 71-67.
Husker sophomore Dalano Banton, held without a point for almost 32 minutes, briefly took over offensively, scoring all seven of his points on drives to the basket, culminating in a 3-point play to tie it at 57. After another bucket from Brockington, junior Derrick Walker knocked down a pair of free throws with just 3:48 left to tie it again at 59. Walker, who scored eight points, led Nebraska with seven rebounds and six assists.
As the game hung in the balance, Walker was called for a foul on John Harrar, who made one of his two free throws. Webster missed a three on the other end, and Myles Dread, who was 0-6 from beyond the arc, buried a triple with 2:49 remaining to make it 63-59. Banton and Webster missed threes, Walker missed the front-end of a one-and-one chance, and then was whistled for yet another foul. Brockington, who was a perfect 8-for-8 from the line, made both to extend the PSU lead to 65-59.
Penn State would miss three of their next six free throws, leaving the door open to Nebraska. McGowens created a scoring chance in the lane with a spinning and-1 drive to the rim. The 3-point play cut it to 66-62. The Huskers then defended for a full 30 seconds and forced a tough shot by Jones that missed. But Brockington was there for the putback with 40 seconds left to make it 68-62.
While Webster did make a couple free throws and McGowens got another layup, it was too little too late as NU missed its last nine 3-point attempts.
This is the third time since joining the Big Ten that Penn State has eliminated the Huskers from the Big Ten Tournament. The Nittany Lions also knocked NU out in 2015 and 2017, both times when Nebraska was the 12 seed and PSU the 13 seed.
Nebraska’s 2020-21 season is now complete. Stick with Corn Nation throughout the off-season for the latest Nebrasketball news, commentary, and more.