By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
Of all the gratifying numbers from the Nebraska men’s basketball team’s exhaling 82-66 victory over Penn State on Tuesday night, one little goose egg speaks volumes.
You’ll find it on Jordy Tshimanga’s stat line.
That represents as much progress for Tshimanga, a 6-foot-11 true freshman center, as do his 12 points or seven rebounds or 6-of-7 shooting in a tidy 17 minutes.
“Before the game, I just went to the refs and asked them a few questions about what they consider fouls and stuff,” Tshimanga said, “and they just told me how it works.”
Tshimanga said he did the same thing before last week’s game, against Wisconsin, when he committed a mere two fouls.
“I just followed what they told me,” he said, “and that worked.”
Before the Wisconsin game, Tshimanga had fouled out in two of three games and regularly found himself on the bench early in games because of foul trouble.
Lately, Nebraska coach Tim Miles has noticed Tshimanga doing a better job of “walling up,” or staying straight up and taking advantage of a new rule of verticality that’s meant to favor big men.
“You have to do it well or you’re going to foul, and Jordy’s done a good job using his length to make guys go over the top of him,” Miles said. “He used to jump at every fake, and he’s doing a lot better just staying down.”
As Penn State found out, having Tshimanga on the court for long stretches without foul concerns can be a huge benefit for Nebraska.
“I like him,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “I know he was a late pickup, but he’s really talented. Big body, got good feet, got really good hands. He’s an elite finisher. He did some really good things and they hit him on a lot of (screen and) rolls.”
Chambers called timeout after one such play that sparked the crowd of 13,195 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“He’s starting to click,” Nebraska senior guard Tai Webster said of Tshimanga. “Guys are finding him in spots where he can really be effective. We’re finally seeing what Coach Miles brought him here to do.
“He’s been playing well, staying out of foul trouble and stuff like that. Obviously, that has been a big emphasis for him because he brings such a good defensive presence for us. I think the numbers with him on the court, he’s in our base five (lineup) when we need defense. Just staying away from those fouls is what we need so he can get in there and play more minutes and be more productive for us.”
Tuesday marked Nebraska’s fifth straight game with Tshimanga in the starting lineup, a move that coincided with a foot injury to Ed Morrow. Tshimanga, who was averaging 3.7 points and 2.9 rebounds off the bench, is averaging 9.8 points and 7.4 rebounds as a starter.
So, even with Morrow back in action for a second straight game, Miles kept Tshimanga in the starting five.
Hey, no need to disrupt confidence.
“He’s got better poise, and he’s not over there trying to make something happen, trying to block a shot or trying to do this, trying to do that,” Miles said. “He’s just doing what he knows he’s supposed to do.”
Having a force inside is helping Nebraska’s offense overall, too. The Huskers shot a season-best 63 percent in the first half against Penn State and equaled a season-best with 45 first-half points. Nebraska also improved to 7-1 when reaching 80 points.
“I always say a low-post guy that can score anchors your offense,” Miles said. “It’s like a good running game in football. You hand the ball to some guy and he gets you 6 yards, it’s second-and-4, and every option’s open.
“Same way (in basketball). You’ve seen us have to go double and trap and put ourselves really at risk against Wisconsin, Purdue, teams like that. Now you’ve got guys spotting up, like Jack (McVeigh) or even Tai or whoever. It gives you a whole new set of rules on offense.”
McVeigh scored 15 points and made three three-pointers, including a perfect swish from half court at the halftime buzzer that gave the Huskers a 45-37 halftime lead.
Nebraska (11-14, 5-8 Big Ten Conference) led for more than 38 minutes and never trailed against a Penn State team that was coming off victories over Maryland and Illinois.
“Nebraska played terrific. They did a great job. It seemed like everything was going right for them,” Chambers said. “They just moved a lot quicker. They cut with a purpose. Obviously the second half, they did a nice job guarding us.”
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