Shep Garner allowed Nebraska’s Tarin Smith to rush past him on the perimeter and took one dribble to his right.
The Penn State guard then buried a stepback 3-pointer, a dagger that pushed the Nittany Lions’ lead to 10 points with less than two minutes to play. It was Garner’s third 3-pointer, one more than the entire Cornhusker team. The three triples also matched the number of jump shots Nebraska made Saturday in a brutal offensive performance.
Penn State overcame a cold start and connected on nine 3-pointers en route to a 56-43 win over the Cornhuskers in Big Ten play at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Nittany Lions shot just 30 percent in the first half before going 54.2 percent from the field in the second half.
“I thought there was a real opportunity lost the first eight or 10 minutes of the game,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “I thought our defense was really good, but we just didn’t run sharp enough offense to build any kind of lead. So then when Penn State started warming up and hitting some shots and they made threes tonight, which is really difficult. I think when they make threes, they’re a really good team.”
The Nittany Lions (15-9, 3-8) went 9 for 21 from beyond the arc, getting three 3-pointers from Garner and Brandon Taylor. Penn State’s Geno Thorpe scored a team-high 14 points, while Taylor and D.J. Newbill each added 11 in a game decided by defense.
Nebraska never warmed up and finished 2 for 20 from beyond the arc. The Cornhuskers went 4 for 23 (17.4 percent) from the field in the first half and finished 15 for 51 (29.4 percent) in their third loss in four games. Nebraska (13-10, 5-6) has been limited to 44 or fewer points in each of the three losses. Terran Petteway led Nebraska with 13 points.
“We just try to play solid defense and that’s what we did tonight,” Thorpe said.
Both teams started cold.
Penn State was 2 for 13 from the field in the first 11-plus minutes. Nebraska was 2 for 12 during the same stretch, when the Nittany Lions led 7-6.
Nebraska went 11:16 without a field goal after Shavon Shields knocked down a 3-pointer less than four minutes into the game. The Cornhuskers were 0 for 11 during the drought that came to an end on a layup through a foul by Petteway with more than five minutes left in the half. His free throw pulled Nebraska within 13-9.
The Cornhuskers’ next field goal came on a tip-in by David Rivers at the halftime buzzer to cut Penn State’s lead to 22-13.
“It was an ugly fist fight,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said of the first half. “It was like a rock fight. It was ugly and I’m OK with ugly, just so you know, as long as you get the win of course.”
The Nittany Lions came out of the break firing to build a 20-point lead.
Thorpe knocked away a pass for Petteway and chased down the loose ball, cruising in for two points after the Nebraska star just turned to watch. Garner drilled a three on the next possession and Nebraska took a timeout with 18:21 left after Petteway left a 3-pointer short. Taylor and Thorpe each hit 3-pointers, and Ross Travis knocked down a jumper to make it 37-17.
The Cornhuskers used their press to fuel a 14-0 run to cut the deficit to six points.
But Nebraska never found its confidence offensively, depending on layups while missing jumper after jumper.
Smith hit the team’s first jumper since Shields’ 3-pointer nine minutes into the second half, part of Nebraska’s 14-point run.
“I think they’re really cluttered mentally about offense,” Miles said. “And you can’t be that way.”
Penn State, meanwhile, showed confidence from deep.
Garner drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner with the shot clock winding down to end the Cornhusker run.
“Shep Garner hit huge threes,” Chambers said. “Huge. There’s a freshman who stepped up and hit big-time shots.”
Penn State soon led by 11, only to see Nebraska make one more run.
The Cornhuskers’ final jump shot made it a one-possession game with 5:25 to play. Petteway nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut Penn State’s lead to 44-41.
But Penn State responded by breaking Nebraska’s press for easy buckets.
Penn State’s Devin Foster caught the ball in the backcourt and darted past Shields and straight to the rim for a layup. After Garner’s three pushed the lead to 10, Thorpe and Newbill finished with back-to-back breakaway slams.
“It just feels like, ‘Uh oh, we’re done here,’” Miles said. “You could just see it on the guys’ faces but they got five runouts the last 5:25 or whatever it was. It might have been a few more seconds than that. Those were killers.”
Nebraska’s ugly shooting effort against Penn State didn’t help, either.
“I thought our defense was terrific,” Chambers said. “We really did some good things on the defensive end. We talked early, we talked often and everybody really knew the scouting report and I thought that’s why we held them down to 43 points.”
Notes: Penn State plays at No. 20 Ohio State at 7 p.m. Wednesday. ... Newbill is now fourth all-time on the program’s scoring list with 1,609 points. He passed Pete Lisicky (1,605; 1995-98). Newbill’s 11 points matched a season-low. ... Jordan Dickerson recorded two blocks for his fourth straight multi-block game. ... Garner finished with a career-high five assists.