WASHINGTON — Penn State will get a chance at a second upset win over Michigan State this season.
The Nittany Lions opened this week's Big Ten Tournament with an overtime win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Verizon Center. The 76-67 victory advanced Penn State to take on Michigan State on Thursday afternoon.
Wednesday, Pat Chambers' squad emerged victorious on a tough shooting night for both sides. The Lions had a nine-point lead with five minutes remaining in regulation, but the Huskers rallied and forced overtime with the score knotted at 60. Penn State bounced back in the extra period, though, holding a 16-7 scoring edge there and putting Nebraska away with free throws.
It was a monster afternoon for Penn State big man Mike Watkins, who scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and set a new Big Ten Tournament record with eight blocks.
He was aided by Shep Garner, who with cousin Flava Flav in the stands, knocked down four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points.
Penn State played with a comfortable lead through much of the first half, a period in which the Nittany Lions shot 48.4 percent from the field. But an 11-point lead vanished as Nebraska cranked up the defense, scoring off turnovers and offensive rebounds to fuel a 14-3 run to tie the game at 30. Penn State scored the next eight points, but a Nebraska 3-pointer in the final seconds of the first half made it a five-point Lions lead at the break. The Huskers shot just 35.3 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes but scored a combined 18 second-chance points and points off turnovers.
Neither team shot well in the second half, with Nebraska especially struggling and those woes preventing a comeback. Penn State extended its second-half lead, which never got too big as the Lions searched for their shot as well, to nine with about five minutes to play. But that's when the Huskers unleashed a 9-1 run to make it a one-point game, capped by Tai Webster's first points of the second half after he dropped 10 in the first half. After a couple Penn State free throws, Glynn Watson Jr. drained a game-tying triple, and two more Penn State free throws were followed by a game-tying basket from Ed Morrow Jr. The Lions gave the Huskers a shot at the win with a turnover with a couple seconds left, but Watson's hevae was off the mark, sending the game to overtime.
Webster fouled out not long into overtime, and Penn State stretched a modest three-point lead to six with a Shep Garner triple, his fourth of the game. Nebraska couldn't hit at its end, mustering just seven points in the extra period, and the Lions kept knocking down free throws to seal up the win.
The Huskers shot just 34.2 percent on the game and got just 12 points from Webster, the All-Big Ten honoree, with just two of those coming after halftime. The Lions surrendered 17 second-chance points and 11 points off turnovers, but their 10-percent gap in shooting percentages made up for those areas.
Penn State moves on to the second round, where it will meet Michigan State. In one of the more memorable upset victories of this season, the Lions knocked off the Spartans in a game at The Palestra in Philadelphia. Tom Izzo's team gets a shot at revenge Thursday in the teams' second meeting of the season.
Nebraska watched its season come to an end with the defeat. The Huskers finished with a 12-19 record as head coach Tim Miles continues to face questions about his job status.