The Nebraska men’s basketball team (12-6, 3-2), winners of five of its last six games, looks ride its momentum as the Huskers travel to Pennsylvania to take on Penn St. (12-6, 2-3). The game will tip-off at 6 p.m. CT and will be aired live on the Big Ten Network.
The Nittany Lions are led by sophomore guard Tony Carr, who is second in the Big Ten in scoring (18.7 ppg), fourth in the conference in assists (4.7 apg), and fifth in 3-point field goal percentage (48 percent). In addition to Carr, Penn St. has four players averaging double-figure scoring, led by sophomore forward Lamar Stevens at 15.3 ppg and 6.7 rpg. The teams leading rebounder, Mike Watkins, adds 12.8 ppg and 9.6 rpg, while Josh Reaves and Shep Garner add 10.8 and 10.0 ppg, respectively.
“Mike Watkins at the center spot; I think he blocked like eight of our shots in the Big Ten Tournament. And then you’ve got Lamar Stevens who is playing really well,” Head Coach Tim Miles said.
Reaves, a starter, sat out Tuesday’s game against Indiana for academic reasons. His status for tonight’s game is unknown.
In addition to a well-balanced attack, the Nittany Lions also lead the Big Ten in steals per game (8.8 pg) and are 3rd in blocks per game (6.1). Penn St. also ranks in the top half of the league in rebounding margin (6th), field goal percentage defense (6th), 3-point field goal percentage defense (7th) and scoring defense (7th).
“Penn State can really guard you with pressure and it’s like almost a feast or famine,” Miles said. “I think they lead the league in steals, but yet you can get high percentage shots off of that too.”
In the Big Ten, Penn St. has defeated (9-9, 0-5) Iowa 77-73 and (11-7, 2-3) Northwestern 78-63. The Nittany Lions’ three losses have come to (9-9, 2-3) Wisconsin, (14-4, 3-2) Maryland, and (10-7, 3-2) Indiana on Tuesday. Penn. St.’s three losses have come by a combined 11 points.
Junior James Palmer Jr. leads the Huskers with 15.8 points per game on the year, while junior Isaac Copeland Jr. averages 12.8 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds per contest. Junior point guard Glynn Watson Jr. adds 11.8 points per game and ranks third in the Big Ten in steals at 1.7 per game. However, in his last five games, Watson is averaging 6.4 ppg on 22 percent shooting – scoring three points or under in three of the five games.
Off the bench, senior Anton Gill has made huge strides from last season, averaging 9.8 ppg and shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc. In just 12 games before his injury last season, Gill was shooting just 27 percent from 3.
The Huskers will be without starting center Jordy Tshimanga for Friday’s contest, HuskerHype confirmed with sources close to the program on Thursday afternoon. Despite starting all 18 games, the sophomore center intends to transfer.
In his absence, senior Duby Okeke and junior Tanner Borchardt fill the depth at the center position. While averaging 8.4 and 6.8 minutes per game respectively, both have provided huge sparks off the bench for NU this season.
Okeke, known as one of the Huskers’ rim protectors, averages 0.9 ppg (on 0.9 shots per game) and 2.2 rpg, while ranking third on the team with 1.1 blocks per game. Borchardt, who totaled 44 minutes in NU’s first 13 games, has reached 44 minutes in Nebraska’s last five games and is averaging 2.4 ppg and 2.6 rpg on 67 percent shooting during that stretch.
The most likely candidate to replace Tshimanga in the starting lineup is sophomore forward Isaiah Roby. In a press conference prior to the Kansas game, Miles said he thought about inserting Roby into the starting lineup at that time, but after talking it over with his staff, the move was never made.
In 19.3 minutes per game, Roby averages 6.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg and a team-high 1.7 blocks per game, which also ranks third in the Big Ten.
By The Numbers
4 – In the past five games between Nebraska and Penn St., four of them have come within four points.
18 – In Nebraska’s first 18 games, its 12-6 record is the best start since the 2010-2011 season.
70 – Nebraska is 7-1 when scoring at least 70 points. Nebraska’s only win of the season when scoring under 70 came on Tuesday when the Huskers topped Wisconsin 63-59.
2 – Nebraska is 2nd in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense (.387%).
Contain Tony Carr
Sophomore guard Tony Carr is one of the breakout stars in the Big Ten this season, averaging 18.9 points per game (2nd in the Big Ten) and 4.7 assists per game (4th in the Big Ten), while shooting 48 percent from 3.
“Tony is a terrific player, a big, strong guard,” Miles said. “He’s got a huge potential.”
Evan Taylor: “He’s a really good player. He plays with really good pace. You never speed him up, you don’t turn him over, he’s just a steady guard. He’s added elements to his game from last year. I look forward to the challenge and the match-up.”
This season Penn St. is 9-1 when Tony Carr has 4+ assists, 1-5 when under three.
Which Watson will Nebraska get?
Over his career, Watson has shown his ability to take over games; such as his 34-point outburst in a double-overtime win over Iowa last season, or a 29-point performance in an upset win over No. 14 Minnesota this season, among others. However, Watson has also shown that he can occasionally disappear from games, specifically scoring three points or under in three of the team’s last five games.
However, in the middle of Watson’s tough stretch, the junior point guard put up 19 points, six rebounds, and six assists in a win over Northwestern.
So will we get the “All-Big Ten-caliber” point guard that Miles talks about, or will Watson continue to struggle?
Depth vs. Depth
Without Jordy Tshimanga; Roby, Okeke, and Borchardt will likely be the three guys to get increased minutes. While Roby has nearly been playing “starters minutes,” anyway, the starting role would be a new task for the sophomore. For Okeke and Borchardt, both are averaging under 10 minutes per game and have yet to play a 20-minute game.
For Penn St., the Nittany Lions have five guys that average in double figures – all of which are capable of putting up big numbers.
Penn St. season-highs:
Stephens: 30 (scored above 22 four times)
So the question is: Can Nebraska fill in for the absence of Tshimanga and can Penn St. get the balance around Carr to help top the Huskers?
Carter’s Prediction (5-1)
Nebraska 77 – Penn St. 74
— You can reach the author on Twitter @Carterdonahue_ or via email at Carter@HuskerHype.com