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January 19, 2013Trailing by 3 points with just 25 seconds left to play against visiting Nebraska on Saturday afternoon, an uncanny in-bounds steal, layup and technical flagrant foul gave Penn State an opportunity to earn a come-from-behind win.
First to the line, Nittany Lions' sophomore guard D.J. Newbill hit his first, cutting the Cornhuskers' lead to 66-64. The second missed, but, those were the technicals, leaving Ross Travis another two opportunities to tie the game.
In front of a stunned crowd of 9.883 at the Bryce Jordan Center, Travis missed both, only to have an offensive rebound offer guard Jermaine Marshall another chance at the line after getting fouled himself.
Entering the contest shooting 69.8 percent of their free throws, the Nittany Lions inexplicably missed both shots, essentially delivering the win to the then-winless Huskers (9-9 overall, 1-4 Big Ten).
"We missed our free throws when we needed them," Newbill said afterward. "We gotta execute. We gotta hit those free throws.
"But, it didn't come down to the free throws, it came down to the whole game. We didn't play hard enough, we didn't come out with enough energy. They played harder and that's what happens."
Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers was in full agreement.
Held without a win in conference play, the loss sent his Nittany Lions to 8-10 on the season and 0-5 in conference play.
Like Newbill, Chambers explained that, while the finishing free throw shooting was a disappointment, he was more displeased by a first half that saw his team trail 27-17 at the 3:28 mark despite opening the game on a 7-0 run.
"We didn't play hard the first twenty minutes," Chambers said. "I was shocked. Absolutely shocked. We had two great practices, a short shootaround this morning. We were in a good place, good energy, and just came out. I felt like they played tight. I felt like they played with pressure.
"We created an environment of being loose and playing confident, and that first twenty minutes, like I've been saying all year long, when there are people in the stands, cameras on, things change a little bit."
Only one game after Marshall and Newbill scored a combined 56 points, the pair struggled through 18 and 11 point performances, respectively, shooting just a combined 29 percent from the floor.
Meanwhile, the Huskers, aided by a career-high 29 point performance from true freshman Shavon Shields (10 of 11 from the field, 8 of 8 at the free throw line) overcame the slow early start to build and maintain a lead through the rest of the game.
"Nebraska came in here and they played harder, they executed well, their team played together and they took care of the ball for the most part," Chambers said. "Kid had twenty-nine points. Twenty-nine!
"I mean, at some point you gotta take pride in stopping somebody. And we had everybody - you name it, they covered him - but he just plays hard, he plays aggressive. I'm not even sure how many plays they run for him, but he just gets it done. Clear head, no distractions, understands his role, into Nebraska basketball. Twenty-nine points."
While the loss keeps the Nittany Lions winless five games into the conference schedule, the road ahead only gets harder, including games at No. 2-ranked Indiana Wednesday night then back to the BJC for a date with Ohio State next Saturday.
"We didn't deserve to win. That's just the truth," Chambers said. "You gotta play forty minutes in this league. You gotta play Big Ten basketball. You gotta play hard. We had our chance and we didn't convert and we didn't get it done. But, if you play harder in the first twenty minutes and harder in the first five minutes of the second half then, you know what, I would say, yeah, we deserve it.
"But, Nebraska played great. Tim does a good job. Shields was unbelievable. Ubel was out for the last couple of games, but they just kept it together and he was a huge force versus us today.
"And, look, they shot sixteen for sixteen from the foul line. We were fifteen of twenty-four. You gotta shoot a high clip because getting to the foul line is difficult in this league, and when you get there, you gotta convert."
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