Nebraska basketball’s NCAA tournament hopes on thin ice after road loss to Penn State

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Nebraska’s season was obliterated Tuesday night in a 95-71 blowout loss at Penn State.

The Nittany Lions had two 20-point scorers, outrebounded Nebraska 36-29, turned 11 Husker turnovers into 18 points and got 36 points from the bench. Lamar Stevens scored a team-high 29 points with eight rebounds. The 95 points for Penn State are the most they’ve scored all season, and the most Nebraska has given up since March 2016.

In the locker room postgame, coach Tim Miles said, he and the team were baffled.

“I said, ‘You guys gotta help me out with this one,’” Miles said on his postgame radio show. “I didn’t see it coming.”

Penn State is among the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country, but made 11 of 22 from behind the arc.

Nebraska, meanwhile, made 6 of 18, but found zero offensive rhythm. Penn State baited Nebraska into bad, quick shots. Isaiah Roby scored 17 points and was 8 of 10 from the floor. James Palmer had a team-high 24 points on 20 shots. Glynn Watson scored six points on 2 of 10 shooting.

The Huskers are now 15-12 on the season and 5-11 in conference play. They’ve lost eight of their past 10 games.

Penn State improved to 10-16 and 3-12 in conference play. They remain last in the Big Ten.

The tone for the entire night was set in the first four minutes. On the opening possession, Roby missed an off-balance 30-footer as the shot clock expired. Myles Dread and Lamar Stevens traded off 3-pointers, and Penn State went up 11-4.

Nebraska never got closer than that.

“We’ve gotta really, really have a fighting mentality. And I didn’t see that tonight from the early portion of the game,” Miles said. “We missed a few inside shots and then we got behind, so here we go again.”

Nebraska has lost five straight at Penn State. In each, the Huskers have been down by double digits in the first 25 minutes.

A step-back 3-pointer from Rasir Bolton, his third 3 of the night, gave Penn State a 38-20 lead with five minutes left in the first half. Nebraska failed to score in the final 2:38, and Penn State took a 44-25 lead into the break.

Watson nailed a 3-pointer and Palmer hit two free throws to spark an 8-2 run in the first two minutes of the second.

But that hardly made a dent in Penn State’s lead. Palmer gambled on a steal and allowed an easy layup. Roby didn’t block out, which led to an offensive rebound and three-point play for Jamari Wheeler. Penn State made it a 20-point lead at 55-35 with 15 minutes left.

“So we start to get on a pretty good roll on offense in the start of the second half, but then it becomes, we don’t get rebounds,” Miles said. “Pretty soon you look up and it’s still 20 or 18 or 17 or whatever and you really have nothing to show for it.”

Showing its desperation, Nebraska put on a full-court press for the first time all season. It didn’t work. Penn State rattled off an 11-1 run to take a 61-36 lead. The 25-point deficit was the largest of the season for Nebraska.

Nebraska tried a 1-2-1-1 matchup zone. That didn’t work, either. A 3-pointer from Dread against the zone made it 81-55.

The loss all but ends Nebraska’s postseason hopes, and creates serious questions about Miles’ future at Nebraska. And it won’t get any easier for the Huskers, who end their season with four straight ranked opponents.

A frustrated Miles, speaking on the phone rather than courtside as usual for his postgame radio spot, said Nebraska needs to get back into a fighting mood.

“I thought we had good meetings. I thought we had good quality film,” Miles said. “Basketball on defense and rebounding is about second efforts and just being able to make multiple efforts in a small amount of time, and we didn’t show any desire to do that or any willingness to do that tonight.”