If day one is any indication, the Big Ten Conference Tournament is going to look a lot like the regular season. Anyone can beat anyone, and most games are going to come down to the wire. That was clear on Wednesday night, as 13th-seeded Penn State and 14th-seeded Rutgers each earned wins in low-scoring, defensive games.
Let’s recap the night’s action.
Big Ten Game of the Night:
-Penn State Nittany Lions 76, Nebraska Cornhuskers 67 (OT)
After a rough end to the regular season, Penn State got the postseason started on the right foot. The 13th-seeded Nittany Lions led the entire way on Wednesday, recovering from a late collapse to hang on for a 76-67 overtime win over 12th-seeded Nebraska. The Nittany Lions (15-17) left no doubt in overtime, as Lamar Stevens hit a 3-pointer on their opening possession and they pulled away from the Cornhuskers (12-19).
After giving up 79.6 points per game during its five-game losing streak, the Penn State defense was stingy on Wednesday. Mike Watkins was a big reason why. The 6-foot-9 freshman finished with a Big Ten Tournament-record eight blocks to deter Nebraska from attacking the paint.
The Cornhuskers attempted 21 more shots than the Nittany Lions thanks to 17 offensive rebounds, but Nebraska couldn’t take advantage, shooting just 34.2 percent (26-76) from the field, including 33.3 percent (8-24) from behind the arc.
Watkins contributed all over the floor, leading the NIttany Lions with 18 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 9 of 12 from the field. Freshman forward Lamar Stevens chipped in 16 points and five rebounds for the Nittany Lions, while freshman guard Tony Carr filled the box score with 11 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
With that trio of freshman and a roster that has no seniors, getting a win in the Big Ten Tournament should be great experience for the Nittany Lions going forward. Shep Garner also had a nice day off the Penn State bench, shooting 4 of 7 from behind the arc to finish with 16 points. The junior did it with his cousin, Flavor Flav, cheering from the stands.
The Nittany Lions shut down senior guard Tai Webster, Nebraska’s leading scorer, in the second half. The first-team All-Big Ten honoree scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half and finished the game shooting 4 of 16 from the field, including 2 of 9 from the 3-point line, before fouling out in overtime.
Nebraska junior guard Evan Taylor scored a team-high 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting. Glynn Watson Jr. added 11 points, four rebounds and three assists, while Ed Morrow chipped in eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Penn State had a 14-8 disadvantage in turnovers, but the Nittany Lions helped make up for it by shooting 43.6 percent (24-55) from the floor. They also had a huge advantage at the free-throw line, shooting 80.8 percent (21-26) from the line compared to 70 percent (7-10) for Nebraska. Penn State evened the season series, as Nebraska had notched an 82-66 home win over the Nittany Lions on Feb. 14.
The Cornhuskers looked like they might be the surprise of the Big Ten when they started 3-0 in conference play, but Nebraska limped to the finish, losing 13 of its last 16 games. Penn State advances to take on fifth-seeded Michigan State on Thursday. The Nittany Lions won the lone regular-season meeting with the Spartans, notching a 72-63 win on Jan. 7. Thursday’s winner will take on fourth-seeded Minnesota in Friday’s quarterfinals.
After three years in the conference, Rutgers picked up its first Big Ten Conference Tournament win on Wednesday night. 11th-seeded Ohio State (17-15) took a 32-29 lead into halftime, but 14th-seeded Rutgers (15-17) took control with its defense and pulled away with a 66-57 win. The Scarlet Knights, who have won consecutive games for the first time since the non-conference season, gave up their fewest points since a 79-37 home win over Central Connecticut on Dec. 6.
While the Scarlet Knights got it done defensively, they did it by committee on the offensive end. The Rutgers bench outscored the Ohio State bench 32-8, led by a game-high 21 points from Nigel Johnson. The junior guard shot 3 of 6 from behind the arc and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line to pace the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers’ Deshawn Freeman added 10 points, eight rebounds and two steals before fouling out.
Rutgers controlled the glass, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and outrebounding Ohio State 47-31. That rebounding prowess allowed the Scarlet Knights to win despite shooting just 37.1 percent (23-62) from the field, 30.4 percent (7-23) from the 3-point line and 68.4 percent (13-19) from the free-throw line. Ohio State also struggled offensively, shooting 40.0 percent (18-45) from the field, 30.0 percent (6-20) from behind the arc and 53.6 percent (15-28) from the line.
Jae’Sean Tate was the bright spot for the Buckeyes, finishing with 18 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal on 6-of-8 shooting. However, the junior forward finished with seven of Ohio State’s 14 turnovers. Sophomore guard C.J. Jackson added 12 points and a team-high six assists for the Buckeyes, while Trevor Thompson collected eight points and 11 rebounds.
Rutgers evened the season series, having dropped a 70-64 decision at Ohio State on Feb. 8. Rutgers moves on to day two of the Big Ten Tournament for the first time, where they will meet sixth-seeded Northwestern.
The Scarlet Knights were swept by the Wildcats during the regular season, suffering a 69-60 home loss on Jan. 12 and a 69-65 road loss on Feb. 18. The winner will face third-seeded Maryland in Friday’s quarterfinals.