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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Lamar Stevens has done nearly everything well in a season full of disappointment for Penn State. Shooting 3-pointers hasn’t been one of his specialties, however.
But all Penn State’s versatile forward needed was two quick 3s to get his confidence going and spark Penn State to its highest point total in regulation play since it joined the Big Ten in 1993.
Stevens scored 16 of his 29 points in the first half and Penn State pulled away from Nebraska 95-71 on Tuesday.
“This is the team that we’ve been expecting for a long time,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.
Rasir Bolton scored 21 while Mike Watkins and Josh Reaves added 10 apiece for the Nittany Lions (10-16, 3-12 Big Ten), who have won three of their last five. Reaves scored his 1,000th career point and the Nittany Lions made 55.6 percent of their shots, including 11 of 22 from 3-point range.
James Palmer Jr. led Nebraska (15-12, 5-11) with 24 points. Isaiah Roby added 17 and Thomas Allen scored 11 for the Cornhuskers, who had their two-game winning streak snapped.
“Their guys stepped into their shots,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “They hit deep ones. They hit contested ones. They hit uncontested ones. When a team is so strong on the 3-point line like they were tonight, you’re not going to beat them.”
Nebraska appeared to never have a chance after Stevens got going with eight points in the first four minutes. Penn State took the lead for good on Stevens’ first 3-pointer just 2:36 in. He later made three straight baskets to help fuel a 27-15 run that gave Penn State a 44-25 halftime lead.
The Nittany Lions never looked back.
Myles Dread drained a 3-pointer and Stevens added a 3-point play to spark a 20-14 run for a 64-39 Penn State lead with 13:19 left and the Nittany Lions led by as many as 29 from there.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers looked like they were on the way to recovering from a seven-game slide that all but erased a promising 13-4 start to the season. But they were sluggish in this one and let the worst-shooting team in the Big Ten make 50 percent of its first-half shots and 55 percent overall.
Penn State: It’s been a forgettable season for the reigning NIT champions who statistically rank at or near the bottom of nearly every conference shooting category. They played their best game in this one, however and will try to win a second straight game for just the second time this season after winning the first two games of the season.
Stevens’ performance on Tuesday was his 29th career game with at least 20 points. He has scored at least 20 in five of Penn State’s last six.
“He’s a very difficult matchup for everybody involved,” Miles said. “He’s a strong player, takes contact, still gets into his shot, finishes shots and then when he steps out and makes those first two 3-pointers, now you’re jumpy. He’s so good at driving the basketball, that’s what makes things tough.”
WHEELER AND DEALER
Wheeler’s been a valuable energy player for Chambers all season. The sophomore might’ve played his best game yet.
Penn State’s quick-footed guard finished with nine points, five assists, four steals and was responsible for one of the prettier offensive sequences of the night in the second half.
After Bolton clanked a 3-pointer high off the rim, the 6-foot-1 Wheeler went up for the rebound, came down and went back up and around 6-foot-8 Tanner Borchardt for a smooth layup. Wheeler drew a foul in the process and drained the free throw to make it 55-35 midway through the second.
“Jamari speeds players up and he sets the tone for us on both ends of the floor,” Chambers said. “When he’s playing with that tenacity, everything is going to fall. The free throws, the layups, the floater. Everything else is going to drop for him.”
The Cornhuskers count on Glynn Watson Jr. for secondary scoring and he’s usually been up to the task.
He entered the Bryce Jordan Center averaging 12.1 points per game but managed to pot just a pair of 3-pointers in this one on 2-for-10 shooting.
Nebraska hosts Purdue on Saturday.
Penn State visits Illinois on Saturday.
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