UNIVERSITY PARK, PA — Freshman Sam Haiby hasn’t started a game for the Nebraska women’s basketball team, but she’s finished more than a few of them. And if made free throws can be tiny daggers, Haiby threw ten straight as NU held off Penn State 79-74.
“It felt really good to get my confidence back from the stripe,” said Haiby, a 68.8-percent free throw shooter who didn’t miss one on Saturday. She scored 16 points in all.
NU’s 14-point second half lead vanished over the course of the third and fourth quarters behind strong play from PSU All-Big Ten guard Teniya Page, who scored 22 points despite battling an ankle injury. Page tied the game at early in the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer. Haiby answered quickly with a layup. Nebraska never lost the lead after that, Penn State threatened often.
Haiby’s ten free throws fended off the Nittany Lions’ upset bid and helped Nebraska (14-15 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten) finish .500 in a competitive Big Ten Conference.
“I’m absolutely comfortable with the ball in her hands,” Nebraska coach Amy Williams said of the 5-9 Haiby, who is NU’s second-leading scorer this year. “She possesses some things that helped us out against Penn State’s defense. She is very difficult to defend and deny. She finds way to get open, se we know she can create space for herself and then she can really put pressure on the defense. And we needed that desperately in the fourth quarter against their defense.”
Haiby was one of two Huskers not to commit a turnover against Penn State (12-17 and 5-13). The other was freshman forward Ashtyn Veerbeek, who finished with eight points and ten rebounds in just 15 minutes. NU also got 14 key points off the bench from sophomore forward Taylor Kissinger, who hit four of Nebraska’s six 3-pointers. Kissinger hit two 3s during a 15-2 second quarter run that helped give the Huskers a 43-32 halftime lead.
A 3-point play from Kayla Mershon gave Nebraska its biggest lead at 50-36. Penn State rapidly responded with a 9-0 run and trailed just 57-52 after three quarters. Page tied the game 51 seconds into the fourth. Haiby answered, and Nebraska eventually escaped with its fifth Big Ten road win.
“We withstood their punches and it was good to see we could punch back and win in the end,” Haiby said. Nebraska won four of its last six and its last three games decided by ten points or fewer.
“In this league, with as competitive as it’s been all season, any win – particularly a road win – is good for our team,” Williams said.
NU now waits to find out its seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The Huskers could be as high as No. 6 if Iowa beats Northwestern and Minnesota beats Michigan State, as NU holds the tiebreaker over each. If both Northwestern and Michigan State win, Nebraska will be the No. 8 seed.
“We put ourselves in the best position and, at this point, we’ll take whatever we’ve got and go into that Tournament with the mindset to win it,” Williams said.