LINCOLN — After four days of NCAA basketball tournament talk and national media spotlight, the Nebraska men's basketball team Thursday night showed no signs of stage fright.
The Huskers jumped to a 12-point halftime lead over Penn State, increased the margin to 27 in the second half and cruised to an 80-67 romp in front of 15,797 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Concern was in the air about NU (15-10, 7-6) handling the ESPN/CBS/USA Today attention that followed Sunday's road upset of No. 9 Michigan State.
The last time the Huskers came off a win over a ranked opponent (No. 17 Ohio State), Penn State beat them the next game.
This time, it was far different.
“We couldn't come out here and lay an egg after getting a big win against Michigan State,'' said Nebraska guard Terran Petteway, who led all scorers with 26 points. “We had to come out here and prove something.
“We've still got stuff to do. We've got a lot of winning to do.''
Nebraska coach Tim Miles' message since Michigan State has been “avoid the noise.'' He liked his team's response to the hype, especially on a chippy, choppy night that looked more like an Elks Free-Throw Contest than Big Ten basketball.
Fifty-one fouls were called, including five technicals, and 71 free throws attempted. NU made 37 of 48 (77.1 percent). The only rhythm came from the band.
“I don't think you build a 27-point lead on any Big Ten opponent without tremendous focus and concentration on the task at hand,'' Miles said. “I was proud of them that way.''
Any lack of focus wasn't evident until there was 8:02 to play.
That's when forward Walter Pitchford, Nebraska's No. 3 scorer and No. 4 rebounder, crashed to the floor with an injured left knee. Teammates helped him off the court as Pitchford, who had 11 points and six rebounds, kept all weight off that leg.
“I don't think there is any structural damage,'' Miles said. “But I don't know when he'll be available.
“He was smiling after the game. That helped. He wasn't writhing in pain or anything. He had already iced it. But I really don't know. I don't talk to hurt guys.''
Any issue with Penn State forward Donovon Jack, who barreled into Pitchford's lower body?
“No. I thought the kid was making a hustle play,'' Miles said. “I didn't think it was mean-spirited. I would prefer he hadn't dived. That's a kid who plays hard, so it didn't surprise me.''
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers, who talked enough during the game to draw a technical foul, tidied things up after the game in two minutes flat.
“Give Nebraska credit,'' he said. “They are a hot team right now. We knew they were a hot team. We had to play at a high level, and we didn't get it done.
“We can't blame it on the officials. We've got to hit some outside shots.''
Penn State guards D.J. Newbill, the No. 4 scorer in the Big Ten, and Tim Frazier, who is No. 8, each finished with 17 points. But that doesn't tell how well Nebraska defended them.
At the time NU took its biggest lead at 70-43, Newbill and Frazier were a combined 6 of 26 from the field (23.1 percent).
“We emphasized not letting them go to their preferred hand,'' said Husker guard Tai Webster, whom Miles praised for his defense while adding 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.
“We wanted to do everything we could to stay in front of them. It also takes five guys to guard them.''
Penn State shot 34.9 percent. Nebraska's previous three foes — Michigan State 34 percent, Illinois 36.7 percent and Northwestern 37 percent — also were limited to less than 40 percent.
That defensive surge has helped the Huskers win at a rate rarely seen the past decade.
They have claimed six of their past seven games, something that hasn't happened in conference play in 15 years. They also got above .500 in conference play this late in the season for the first time in eight years.
Again, it's about handling the hype.
Said Miles: “I was very proud of that.''
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Video: How loud was Pinnacle Bank Arena during lineups?