Austin Lederman (@austinlederman)
With a road meeting with No. 2 Indiana on Wednesday and a No. 11 Ohio State visit to Happy Valley next weekend, Penn State had probably its best chance of securing its first win in conference play.
Unfortunately for Penn State, they failed to come out on top Saturday afternoon against fellow Big Ten bottom-feeder Nebraska in a 68-64 loss.
Penn State (8-10, 0-6 Big Ten) failed to convert from the free throw line in the game’s final 30 seconds, ultimately costing the Nittany Lions their chance at its first Big Ten win. D.J. Newbill, Ross Travis and Jermaine Marshall each had their chances at the charity stripe to give Penn State an advantage, but combined to shoot 1-of-6 down the stretch.
Down two points with 24 seconds left in the game, Newbill got fouled on a layup attempt that was later ruled a flagrant, and knocked down 1-of-2 from the free throw line. Travis took the extra two free throws, but missed both.
On the ensuing possession, Marshall drove the lane and drew contact forcing the refs to blow their whistle again. Marshall, just like Travis, missed both attempts and the chance at a win. Overall on the game, Penn State shot just 62.5 percent (15-of-24) from the free throw line.
“We were 15-of-24,” coach Pat Chambers said of his team’s foul shooting. “You gotta shoot a high clip because getting to the foul line is difficult in this league and when you get there you gotta convert.”
Nebraska (10-9, 1-5 Big Ten) on the other hand, knocked down all 16 of their free throw attempts and shot the ball well from the field. They shot 47.1 percent (24-51) compared to Penn State’s 38.6 percent (22-of-57).
Penn State couldn’t do anything to contain Nebraska forward Shavon Shields. The freshman played the best game of his young collegiate career, scoring a career-high 29 points (10-of-11) and hauling in six rebounds.
“He’s been tremendous the last two games and he just keeps getting better and better and I think I told him the other day there’s no ceiling here, there’s no ceiling,” said Nebraska coach Tim Miles. “Don’t just be happy with 18 or whatever it might be because the sky’s the limit and just keep playing and expand your game.”
After a poor showing against Michigan State Wednesday night, freshman Brandon Taylor did his best job of keeping Penn State in the game in the first half. With Newbill on the bench with foul trouble, Taylor scored 9 points (4-of-6) and grabbed four rebounds.
The 6-foot-7 New Jersey product has been used this season primarily as a pick-and-pop three-point shooter, but today he did a little bit of everything – he went to the post, shot some three balls and took advantage when Nebraska switched a smaller defender onto him.
“A lot of teams are switching on me since they know I’m a shooter so I have a smaller guy on me so now I’m starting to play more in the post,” Taylor said.
More importantly for Taylor, he was able to stay on the floor. He’s struggled with foul trouble this season, something that isn’t uncommon for most freshmen, but he played solid defense and didn’t commit silly fouls in this one. For Taylor, the production didn’t keep up in the second half, but his frontcourt teammates picked up the slack.
“Just learn how to move without the ball since I’m not a point guard or anything,” Taylor said on how to remain involved in the offense. “I gotta do a better job in the post too because I can play inside and out.”
Travis, Sasa Borovnjak and Jon Graham combined to score 17 points and grab 11 rebounds in the losing effort.
“Look, we need more production from other guys,” said Chambers. “D.J. and Jermaine are trying – they’re trying to do everything and they’re playing the best guys on the other team. We need Brandon to be a sophomore and Sasa to be a 23-year-old senior, it’s what we need. And then whoever comes in off the bench needs to get it done – with energy, with enthusiasm – they need to bring a spark.”