basketball Edit

Huskers catch fire in 93-70 road rout over Penn State

Nebraska’s season has been full of disappointment and frustration. But for one night, at least, everything went the Huskers’ way.

Behind the best offensive performance of the Fred Hoiberg era, NU traveled to State College, Penn., and absolutely steamrolled Penn State in a 93-70 blowout victory.

Bryce McGowens led the way with a game-high 25 points, as Nebraska posted its highest regulation point total of the year and scored the most points of any Nittany Lion opponent this season.

It also marked NU’s largest margin of victory in a Big Ten game since beating Rutgers 90-56 on Jan. 9, 2016.

Most importantly, the Huskers (8-20, 2-15) earned their second Big Ten victory and just their second conference road win in three seasons under Hoiberg. Fittingly, the only other league road victory came at Penn State last year.

Nebraska put together its best offensive performance of the Fred Hoiberg era for its second Big Ten win of the season.
Nebraska put together its best offensive performance of the Fred Hoiberg era for its second Big Ten win of the season. (Associated Press)

Nebraska played its best 20 minutes of the year in the first half. The Huskers broke the game open with an 18-2 run that gave them a 28-15 lead out of the gates.

By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, NU had shot 60.6 percent from the field, scored 12 second-chance points and 10 points off turnovers, while closing the half on a 39-18 run for a 49-31 lead at the break.

The 49 points were the most Nebraska had scored in any half this season, led by Bryce McGowens (15) and Alonzo Verge Jr. (12) combining for 27 points.

The Huskers didn’t slow down to start the second half, either. An And-1 by Verge on the opening possession pushed the margin to 21, marking NU’s largest lead in any Big Ten game this season.

Nebraska would eventually go up by as many as 32 before all was said and done and had all five starters score in double figures. NU shot a season-high 58.2% from the field and hit 13-of-20 from 3-point range.

The Huskers’ 65% clip from behind the arc was its best 3-point shooting performance (min. 10 attempts) since hitting 64.7% vs. USC (11-17) on Dec. 3, 2012.

Verge finished with an impressive stat line of 15 points, five assists, and four rebounds, while Trey McGowens was right behind him with 12 points, five boards, and four assists.

Lat Mayen scored 13 on 5-of-8 shooting, while Derrick Walker racked up 10 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. CJ Wilcher chipped in nine points while hitting all three of his 3-point attempts.

3-POINT PLAY

1. That’s what it’s supposed to look like

Not much of anything had gone the way Hoiberg had planned since he took over in Lincoln three years ago. Still, there have been occasional flashes of Nebraska looking like the team many expected upon his arrival.

Sunday night’s performance, however, was the perfect picture of what Hoiberg’s teams want to be.

Pretty much everything went the Huskers’ way in not only their best offensive performance of the season but also one of their top efforts in many years.

NU posted an effective field goal percentage of 70.0, its ninth-highest mark this century and its best since 2015 (74.4 at Northwestern).

The Huskers previously had not been above 60.0 in a Big Ten game all year.

Nebraska’s 65% 3-point clip was the 12th-highest by a team with 20-plus attempts this season.

All of that led to NU finishing with its third-largest margin of victory under Hoiberg, trailing only home wins over McNeese State (47) and Doane (43).

The Huskers had a similar effort in their 82-67 charity exhibition win over Colorado before the season, where they hit 12 threes and dished out 17 assists.

The difference tonight was that this one actually counted, and it came on the road against the best defensive team in the Big Ten.

Penn State came in leading the conference in scoring defense (64.6 ppg) while holding opponents to just 40.9% shooting from the field. PSU had only given up 57.7 ppg over its previous four contests.

That all changed when Nebraska became just the eighth opponent to drop 90-plus regulation points against the Nittany Lions since 2010.

2. Nebraska set the tone on the glass

As impressively as Nebraska shot the ball on Sunday night, it had an equally critical performance on the glass against one of the top rebounding teams in the Big Ten.

The Huskers ended up owning a 34-22 rebounding advantage, including a 10-6 edge in offensive boards for a 14-3 lead in second-chance points. NU has had 11 games this year where it's only managed five or fewer offensive rebounds.

Penn State’s John Harrar came in ranked second in the conference with 10.2 rebounds per game. His 90 offensive boards on the season were 10 more than any other player in the league.

The senior big man still posted a solid line of nine points and eight rebounds, but the Huskers were overall able to keep him from taking over the game on the glass as he’s done to NU so many times over the years.

In three meetings vs. PSU last season, Harrar averaged a whopping 13.0 boards per game against Nebraska.

After hauling in five rebounds (four offensive) in the first half, Harrar only managed three more in the second half.

3. The offensive rhythm was perfect

In a game featuring the Big Ten’s fastest and slowest-paced offenses, Nebraska found the ideal rhythm from the opening tip and stayed there all night.

The ball movement was as good as it’s been all year, as the Huskers recorded assists on 14 of their 32 made baskets in the win.

They did turn the ball over 15 times, but they still managed to average 1.388 points over 68 offensive possessions and scored on 58.2% of the times they had the ball.

Verge and Trey McGowens were the catalysts behind that, combining for a 9-to-3 assist-to-turnover ratio and constantly making the smart, simple plays with the basketball.

Trey McGowens shot 4-for-5 from the field, had four assists, four steals, and zero turnovers in his 30 minutes of work.

After the game, Hoiberg said there were many instances where the pass before the assists (“The hockey assists, as we call it in the business,” he said.) were just as important to NU’s offense operating at such a high level.

Hoiberg also pointed to Walker - who dished out four assists - as a perfect example of that, saying NU broke the game open in the first half when it ran its offense through him.

“We went out there and we didn’t get sped up,” Hoiberg said on his postgame radio show on the Husker Radio Network. “We talked a lot about that. We don’t want to take rushed and contested shots. I just thought the execution was perfect.”

THEY SAID IT

“Listen, none of us are happy with anything that has gone on from the win-loss record. We’ve had some performances where I think we’ve played well and we were proud of how we played. To play this way - to play the right way for 40 minutes and get rewarded for it, is very gratifying."
— Head coach Fred Hoiberg on the meaning of Nebraska's win over Penn State.