Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

This Is How Good Roby Can Be, And Is

By Brian Rosenthal

It’s become something of a joke among those who follow the Nebraska men’s basketball team, that time-honored question about one of the Huskers’ top players.

“Does Isaiah Roby know how good he could be?”

The inquisition began innocently and honestly enough when the baby-faced Roby arrived on campus as a freshman and coach Tim Miles cracked jokes about how long until Roby would need to buy a razor.

The wingspan, the basketball IQ, the knack for being in the right place at the right time – all of it had coaches, fans and media members pondering the potential of Roby. For the most part, Roby would take the question as a compliment.

But when you’re entering your junior season, and TV analysts are still asking if Roby knows how good he could be?

“That’s what the coaches kind of challenged me to do this year,” Roby said, “is take that as less of a compliment. I’m a junior, so I should be doing the type of stuff I’m doing now.”

Yes, a matter of fact, Roby does know could he can be – or more accurately, how good of a player he is.

Such was the case Thursday night, when the 6-foot-8 Roby turned in a career night at a time Nebraska dearly needed a spark.

Roby scored a career-high 22 points, collected 11 rebounds, blocked four shots and made pivotal plays in the closing minutes of Nebraska’s 70-64 victory over Penn State that stretched the Huskers' home winning streak at Pinnacle Bank Arena to 20 games, tying a program record.

More importantly, it ended a two-game skid for Nebraska (12-4, 2-3 Big Ten Conference).

“We lost two in a row, and it’s been real rough, because you can see that everybody’s frustrated,” Roby said. “We want to win. Coaches want to win. We put in a lot of time. It’s just good to pull out a win like this. You can’t lose these games.”

Anybody who expected Nebraska to return from a two-game road trip and roll over a Penn State team coming off a lopsided home loss to Wisconsin was sorely mistaken.

On the contrary, Nebraska expected a tussle – in part because Miles knew the Nittany Lions would play hard for coach Patrick Chambers, who missed the Wisconsin game because of a one-game suspension.

That came to fruition, as Penn State (7-9, 0-5) collected a season-high 46 rebounds, including 21 offensive, and counted on a season-high 20 points from guard Josh Reaves.

“I thought my team really competed. They played hard,” Chambers said. “That’s what I wanted to see after Sunday night. That was not Penn State basketball last Sunday. We worked really hard in practice, and that showed tonight.”

Meanwhile, nothing came easy for Nebraska, despite the fact the Huskers held the lead the final 15:20, but never by more than six points.

“I thought we were a little uptight, and you could see that. You could see frustration in the guys,” Miles said. “You knew (the Nittany Lions) weren’t going to go down easily, and then when they started making 3s, you’re up against it.”

But Nebraska had something Penn State did not – Roby.

With 4:07 remaining, Roby made an emphatic defensive rebound and drew a foul with the Huskers ahead 62-58. He secured another defensive board with Nebraska still ahead by four with 3:31 remaining.

Reaves hit his fourth 3-pointer to draw Penn State within one, but senior guard Glynn Watson Jr. launched a 3-pointer that bounced around so long, hitting every part of the rim and backboard, that a foul had been called on Reaves in a scrum under the basket for what everybody thought would be a rebound.

But the shot's long journey somehow ended through the net for a 65-61 lead with 2:13 to play.

“I mean, it felt good,” Watson said, “but I didn’t think it was going to do all that, to be honest.”

Nebraska kept the ball after the 3-pointer, and after James Palmer Jr. missed a 3-pointer, Roby grabbed an offensive rebound.

“He gave us a big spark,” Watson said. “He was active on defense, and that led to offense. He was just playing both sides. He was big for us tonight.”

Nebraska, still clinging to a four-point lead, counted on a steal from Roby at the 1:05 mark, and a blocked shot, his fourth of the game, with 33 seconds remaining. Roby secured victory with a defensive rebound with 17 seconds to play, and made four free throws thereafter to reach his career-high point total. He was efficient, too, going 8-of-9 from the field, with two 3-pointers, and 4-of-5 on free throws. The double-double was his first this season, and the fifth of his career.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, yes, Roby had one of his typical impressive dunks, in the second half, a strong one-handed flesh when he cut to the basket and took a pass from Isaac Copeland Jr.

“You can see why he’s such a special kid and a special player,” Miles said of Roby. “I thought his effort tonight, he was the one guy I thought had great energy, great body language and was aggressive the whole night through.”

Watson fought back after getting hit in the mouth early in the game to score 19 points, as he and Nebraska’s starting five played the entire second half. In the first half, Miles subbed Amir Harris, playing for the first time after missing five games with an illness, and Nana Akenten, who also had been sick lately.

He didn’t feel comfortable with that rotation at halftime, he said, and considered playing Tanner Borchardt in the second half, but stuck with the core five.

“We gotta do what we gotta do,” Watson said. “Coach Miles believes in us to play a lot of minutes, so that’s what we have to do.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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