LINCOLN — After losing back to back games on the road, frustration was mounting inside the Nebraska program this week.
And on Thursday, assistant coach Jim Molinari told the team when you’re good, and you’ve dropped a few in a row in conference play, the hardest thing in the world to do is just win a game.
Nebraska made it look hard on Thursday night against Penn State, but pulled out a 70-64 victory in a game in which neither team led by more than five until the final minute.
On a night in which James Palmer struggled, Isaiah Roby carried Nebraska to its second Big Ten win of the season by scoring a career-high 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Nebraska shot 50 percent from the floor and made nine 3-pointers, but was outrebounded 46-32 and allowed 21 Penn State offensive rebounds.
“It felt good,” Roby said. “We need to get it back on track.”
Despite Nebraska entering the game a double-digit favorite, Nebraska struggled to find a rhythm offensively and could not box Penn State out. The Nittany Lions dominated the glass and scored 17 second-chance points. Penn State got 20 points from Josh Reaves, who made seven of his first 10 shots and kept Palmer in check on the defensive end. Nebraska senior Glynn Watson added 19 points for Nebraska and three assists in 39 minutes.
None of Nebraska’s bench players saw the floor in the second half.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said he thought Roby was the one guy who showed up Thursday with good energy and good body language, and that showed in how aggressive he played. Especially in the final few minutes.
Nebraska led 62-61 with 2:30 left. A 3-pointer from Watson gave the Huskers some breathing room, but NU’s inability to score in the final 90 seconds kept Penn State’s hopes alive.
On Penn State’s final two possessions, Roby jumped a pass for a steal, blocked a shot that was rebounded by a teammate, and made four free throws on the other end to seal the win.
“You can see why he’s such a special kid and special player,” Miles said.
Nebraska is now 12-4 on the year and 2-3 in the Big Ten. The win is NU’s 20th straight in Pinnacle Bank Arena, which ties for the longest home winning streak in school history.
Penn State dropped to 7-9 on the season, and remains winless in conference play.
“I was really proud of the way we competed,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “Give Tim and his team credit. They did what they needed to do at the end of the game to secure the win.”
Afterwards, Miles said it was too early to tell if his team was relieved to get the win or still a little frustrated. Copeland had one of his less impressive nights, with nine points and six rebounds. Miles said he thought PSU’s Lamar Stevens’ nine points in the second half scored on Copeland impacted him offensively.
In the huddle, Miles could tell his guys were stressed out all night. Except for Roby.
“I just thought we were a little uptight, and you could see that,” Miles said. “You know, as a coach you think, ‘What are you doing?’ You emphasize for the last five days defensive rebounding and getting the 3s, and these guys have a career high night, or season high night in 3s and 21 offensive rebounds. So despite all that, we were able to win. But those are things we’re going to correct and get to.”
What was encouraging for Roby and Watson were those final few minutes. In a season in which Nebraska’s not been able to close out conference wins, including games at Maryland, Minnesota and Iowa, NU reversed its course at home and sidestepped what could’ve been a black mark on its NCAA Tournament resume.
“It’s just good to pull out a win like this,” Roby said. “We can’t lose those games.”