LINCOLN, Neb. – Anxious Nebraska fans worried about the Cornhuskers coming out flat against Penn State after their upset at Michigan State could relax by halftime.
The Huskers turned a 12-point lead in the first half into a 27-point bulge and went on to an 80-67 victory Thursday night.
Terran Petteway scored 26 points to lead five Nebraska players in double figures, and the upstart Cornhuskers posted their fourth straight win and seventh in nine games.
“This was definitely a good win,” Petteway said. “We couldn’t come out and lay an egg after getting a big win at Michigan State. We had to come out and prove something. We still have stuff to prove. We have a lot of winning to do, so we have to keep building on it.”
Nebraska (15-10, 7-6 Big Ten) has won four straight conference games for the first time since 1998-99 and has matched its victory total of last season. The Huskers are over .500 in the Big Ten for the first time since joining the league in 2011.
The 60-51 win at then-No. 9 Michigan State on Sunday was the first on the road against a ranked opponent since 2008, and it sparked talk about the Huskers perhaps making a run at their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998.
The fact the Huskers never trailed against a Penn State team that had beaten them 58-54 in State College, Pa., last month told coach Tim Miles that his players weren’t distracted by the sudden hype surrounding the team.
“To build it up to 27 with eight minutes to go, that’s pretty good,” Miles said. “In the Big Ten you don’t do that to many opponents.”
D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier scored 17 points each for Penn State (13-14, 4-10), which has lost four of its last five after winning three straight.
The teams combined for 51 fouls, so the game had little flow. In the middle of the second half, after yet another stoppage, a voice in the sellout crowd of 15,797 cried out “No more fouls!”
Five technical fouls were called, four on Penn State. Nebraska made 37 of 48 free throws and the Nittany Lions hit 17 of 23. Penn State’s Brandon Taylor was ejected with 15:18 left after committing his second technical. A couple minutes earlier, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers had received a technical for arguing.
“Look, I have great respect for the officials. I mean, 48 free throws, wow,” Chambers said. “I give Nebraska a lot of credit. They’re a hot team right now. We knew they were a hot team and we had to play at a high level and we didn’t get it done. You can’t blame it on the officials. We have to hit some shots.”
Shavon Shields had 13 points before fouling out with 3 minutes to play, Walter Pitchford and Ray Gallegos added 11 apiece and Tai Webster had 10 in the win.
The 6-foot-10 Pitchford, who averages nine points and is the team’s top 3-point shooter, went out with 8:02 to play after Penn State’s Donovon Jack crashed into his left knee. Miles said Pitchford did not sustain any structural damage, but the coach didn’t know if Pitchford would be available for Sunday’s game against Purdue.
Miles said he didn’t think Jack intentionally struck Pitchford’s knee.
“I thought the kid was making a hustle play,” he said. “I didn’t think it was mean-spirited.”
Penn State shot 25.8 percent the first 20 minutes and 34.9 percent for the game. The Nittany Lions’ only worse first-half effort was 24.1 percent the first time the teams met.
Nebraska has held its last four opponents to 35.6-percent shooting and an average of 56.3 points.
Petteway said he and his teammates took a different approach offensively than they did the first time the teams met.
“Last time we played them we weren’t aggressive at all,” Petteway said. “We were pulling the ball out; we were hesitant to get to the rack. It’s just staying aggressive and attacking those guys when they do all that switching and different defenses.”