Even an NIT bid is starting to look out of reach for Penn State basketball. The team is now 0-5 in Big Ten play and 7-9 overall after losing to Nebraska on Thursday night. Yes, it was nice to see the Lions compete for 40 minutes against a veteran squad on the road, but Pat Chambers is supposed to have some experienced talent of his own, and said talent has not performed consistently enough to grind out wins against — we hear this from announcers time after time — the deepest league in the country.
If Penn State is going to take a step forward and start winning some of these Big Ten games in January, Josh Reaves needs to approach 20 points more often. He reached 20 against Nebraska, but that was following five straight instances of him scoring below 10 points. It’s not as though there’s a wealth of options to hand the ball to after Lamar Stevens gets doubled-teamed, which happens on every other possession.
The key for Reaves seems to be his three-point shot. At times, it looks dreadful, but when it’s falling, the senior looks to take it and becomes a much more aggressive player. His 4-for-7 night from beyond the arc was his best since going 3-for-8 to key another close road loss against Maryland on December 1.
Mike Watkins had his second double-double in three games, which is good because it means less John Harrar on the floor. Harrar is a decent enough defender, but he’s painfully clumsy on offense, and Penn State can just not deal with that when it’s playing form a deficiency at the perimeter spots.
Like Harrar, Trent Buttrick and Myreon Jones also scored zero points on Thursday. Since the Alabama game in which they both received expanded playing time, both players have gone back to being insignificant contributors. That’s disappointing, especially when you consider that the main guy Penn State counts on for three-point shots, Rasir Bolton, has made one of his last 14 from long range, a span ranging all three January games.
Penn State kept the game close in Lincoln by frustrating James Palmer Jr. (11 points on 3-for-12 shooting), but Isaiah Roby and Glynn Watson Jr. picked up the slack by combining for 41 points on just 25 shots. The Cornhuskers are even more shallow than Penn State, as they only got one point from their bench, but their starters proved a little more capable.
Next up for Penn State is Michigan State on Sunday afternoon. It’s a 4:30 p.m. start that is running against an Eagles playoff game, so you can bet your tush that there will be a very sparse crowd around to see the Lions take their shot against one of the conference’s best teams.