LINCOLN — Nebraska enjoyed a rare Big Ten men’s basketball romp Saturday night while Penn State showed why it ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in shooting.
The Huskers held PSU to one field goal over a span of 20:02 — the final 13:27 of the first half and the first 6:35 of the second — to cruise to a 67-53 victory in front of a Devaney Center crowd of 8,742.
Penn State, ranked 333rd out of 347 teams nationally in field-goal shooting and 341st in 3-pointers, was 1 of 22 in that stretch. With 13 minutes left in the game, the Nittany Lions were shooting 15.6 percent.
“I really like how we defended them,” NU coach Tim Miles said. “They haven’t made a lot of 3s. So if you can win the paint defensively, you can make it hard on them.”
The Huskers packed the lane so tightly that often four players had a foot in the paint.
“Their game plan was great,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “It was smart. It was like a disguised zone almost with five in the middle.”
Penn State is without the 22 points a game normally provided by first-team All-Big Ten guard Tim Frazier, who tore his Achilles tendon in November.
But in Chambers’ eyes, that doesn’t excuse Saturday night’s 29.2-percent shooting overall (14 of 48) and 20 percent accuracy from the 3-point line (2 of 10, after going 2 of 20 the game before).
“We’ve got to make some shots,” he said. “We got some really good looks. Somehow we’ve got to figure it out.”
The Huskers’ season-best field-goal defense was needed because they weren’t exactly on fire, either. NU shot 32.6 percent (15 of 46).
Maybe everyone was too distracted to shoot well from all the whistling. The teams combined for 51 fouls, which led to 73 free throws.
“When 70 percent of their shots are misses and 68 percent of ours, everything is a loose ball,” Miles said. “That’s hard to officiate, and that’s hard to play.
“Players start driving it harder and rebounds are hotly contested. It’s just an ugly game, and those are hard to ref.”
Nebraska’s 41 free throws and 32 makes were both season highs.
The Huskers stretched their 33-26 halftime lead to 41-26 by scoring the first eight points of the second half — six on free throws.
The lead grew to 45-28 before Penn State hit a second-half shot from the field. Once the lead was at 17, Nebraska didn’t allow the Nittany Lions to get closer than 12.
“That was big for us,” said NU senior forward Brandon Ubel, who had 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. “We’ve let a lot of leads dwindle down.
“Late, we didn’t lose our attacking edge. We kept getting to the free-throw line. Sometimes in the past, we’d get up and get stagnant on offense.”
Nebraska (12-12, 3-8) is still in 11th place in the Big Ten, but has closed within a half-game of 10th-place Illinois. Penn State (8-15, 0-11) lost its 16th straight road game overall and 13th straight in league play.
“I told the team we’re catching somebody,” Miles said. “We’re either going to catch Penn State by losing and moving backward, or we’ve got a chance to catch Illinois, Iowa and Northwestern.”
Ľ NOTES: Miles was surprised by a busload of friends and family from his hometown of Doland, S.D. He said their appearance in the arena gave him chills. “That was awesome,” Miles said. “Then I felt pressure. It was like, ‘We gotta win, holy cow.’ ” ... Nebraska’s season sweep of Penn State was its first in league play since beating Colorado twice in 2009 in the Big 12. ... The Huskers were a six-point favorite, the first time in Big Ten play the oddsmakers sided with NU.
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