By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
LINCOLN, Neb. - Early in the week, Penn State head coach Patrick Chamber expressed some concern as the Nittany Lions prepped for their Tuesday evening trip to Lincoln. Inside of a hostile Pinnacle Bank Arena, Chambers' concerns turned to reality as the Nittany Lions fell in an 82-66 decision to snap a two-game conference winning streak.
"Nebraska played terrific," Chambers said. "They did a great job. It seemed like everything was going right for them."
Nebraska jumped out to an early seven-point lead nearly five minutes into the opening half. Freshmen Lamar Stevens and Tony Carr quickly combined for a 9-2 run, sparked by a Stevens 3-pointer, which brought Penn State within two, 15-13.
Returning to the court from an illness, Julian Moore and Stevens pushed Penn State back within two twice more with a pair of jumpers in between a Nebraska dunk. The Huskers responded with a trio of free throws to widen the gap to five, before freshman Mike Watkins added a pair of buckets to keep Penn State within two twice more.
With Nebraska leading 24-22 at the 10:09 mark, the Huskers went surging ahead, stretching the advantage to double figures with a 10-2 streak.
The Penn State freshman group continued to answer back though, narrowing the deficit to as few as five off of a Josh Reaves layup from a Watkins steal with four seconds remaining.
Nebraska wasn't going away though, extinguishing yet another Nittany Lion spark with a near-half court shot to enter the locker room with an eight-point lead, 37-45.
"We did a decent job hanging in there," Chambers said. "They [Nebraska] hit a half-court shot, if they didn't hit that you'd only be down by five."
In just their first appearance on the road in Lincoln, Carr and Stevens paced the Nittany Lions offensively in the first half, adding spark after spark to give Penn State the opportunity. Carr entered the half with 13 points, shooting 6-8 from the field with three rebounds and an assist. Stevens added nine points, grabbing two boards before the break.
Penn State couldn't settle into a rhythm out of the break though, as the Huskers only continued to dial up the defense, shutting the Nittany Lions out of the paint. Hindered by an uncharacteristically off night from behind the arc for Penn State, Nebraska only capitalized on the opportunity.
"Obviously in the second half, they did a nice job guarding us," Chambers said. "I knew we had to make eight 3s to stay in this game because of their defensive style."
A bright spot on the stat sheet, both Carr and Stevens finished with double figures. Carr led the team with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Stevens came in just behind with 13 points and seven rebounds.
"I thought they did a nice job in the first half, but we need consistency and we need them to play defense" Chambers said.
Without much more to say, Chambers noted that there will be no yelling and no screaming. Rather, Penn State will take the same approach it's taken all season, get back in the gym and get back to work on the little things, habits and toughness in a hostile environment.
As Chambers also noted though, although young and dealing with a unique set of added responsibility, the Nittany Lions are getting there.
"They are working so hard and to put that much pressure and stress on them to be leaders, to score, to rebound, to defend and do everything for you, as 18-year-olds, it's only going to make them that much better," Chambers.
Although excited about the future of the young talent though, it's back to work, as the Nittany Lions prepare to host Purdue Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center.
"It's definitely going to be a learning lesson for us tonight," Chambers said. "Hopefully we can carry that with us on our seven days off approaching, and we can be that much better down the stretch."