UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Playing its fourth home game in five contests, the Nittany Lion basketball team (8-9, 0-5 Big Ten) returns to the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday at 1 p.m. (ESPNU) for a clash against Nebraska (9-9, 0-5 Big Ten).
The Nittany Lions used a 14-3 scoring spurt in the final five minutes on Wednesday night to rally back from a 16-point deficit against No. 18 Michigan State. Penn State got as close as five in the final 90 seconds, but the Spartans pulled away for an 81-72 victory in the Jordan Center. Penn State enters Saturday's collision with the Cornhuskers looking to snap a five-game skid to open Big Ten play.
Take a look through The Starting Five keys to the game.
Marshall and Newbill Encore
The guard tandem of Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill were tremendous against Michigan State. Both players eclipsed career-highs with Marshall pouring in 29 tallies and Newbill adding 27 markers. The duo combined for 56 of Penn State's 72 points and shot 60 percent from the field. Marshall played his best offensive game to date, contributing from the perimeter, in the mid-range and around the basket. Newbill was aggressive from the word go on Wednesday night. The Philly native is a difficult matchup for opposing defenses when he takes the ball to the basket with authority. He did that on Wednesday night, and he helped fuel 27 Nittany Lion trips to the foul line. Expecting 56 points from Marshall and Newbill on a nightly basis is too much to ask, but the backcourt duo will play a huge role in Penn State's Big Ten success with their ability to score on the offensive end of the court.
Help the Scorers
While head coach Patrick Chambers was thrilled to see the offensive production from Marshall and Newbill, the Nittany Lions need more scorers to step up. Outside of the guard duo's combined 56 points, the remaining Lions who saw the floor contributed just 16 tallies and 6-for-20 shooting. Guard Nick Colella's six points led the remaining players who saw action. For Penn State to compete on a nightly basis it needs offensive production from its entire cast of players in the rotation. The Nittany Lions become a different team when Colella, Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis and the corps of post players contribute on offense. Penn State is long overdue for a game where more than just two players knock down shots. Keep an eye on that against Nebraska.
Defend the Home Court
While the Nittany Lions took a significant step forward in several offensive areas against Michigan State, the most glaring number on the final box score to Coach Chambers was allowing 52 second-half points. Credit the Spartans for an aggressive second half, but Penn State knows it will need to play much better on the defensive end of the floor against Nebraska to put itself in a position to win. Chambers constantly stresses the importance of team defense night-in and night-out. Look for the Lions to mix things up on the defensive end of the floor, in addition to more communication and consistency in their rotations against the Huskers.
Back on the Glass
After a string of nine-straight contests where the Nittany Lions out-rebounded their opponents, they enter Saturday's game looking to snap a string of two-straight games where they fell in the battle on the glass. Following suit with the importance of playing good team defense, team rebounding is another essential key for the Nittany Lions on a nightly basis. Penn State has consistently been a very good rebounding team, especially on offense, for most of the season, but it will be crucial to get back on track against Nebraska. Look for a big day on the glass from Travis, and keep an eye on Penn State's second-chance points.
Like Penn State, Nebraska heads into Saturday's game seeking its first Big Ten victory of the season. The Huskers rallied from 20 down to close within five against Purdue on Wednesday before falling 65-56 to the Boilers. Freshman Shavon Shields paced Nebraska with 18 points and eight rebounds in the setback. Shields moved into the starting lineup after Andre Almeida suffered an ankle sprain four games ago. While in the lineup, Shields has been very productive for the Cornhuskers, averaging nine points and seven rebounds.
First-year head coach Mark Miles' squad is banged up coming into the game. In addition to the Almeida injury, Nebraska's top big man Brandon Ubel has missed the last two games. Senior Dylan Talley leads Nebraska in scoring at 13.2 points per game and 5.6 assists per contest. Junior guard Ray Gallegos is second on the team in scoring at 13.1 points per game. Ubel, who is out with a fractured elbow, is averaging 12.1 points and a team-best 6.8 rebounds per game. Despite the 0-5 start to Big Ten play, the Huskers played Wisconsin tough at home (47-41) and Michigan (62-47) and Michigan State (66-56) on the road.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony