By Jacob Bigelow
When did Fred Hoiberg know that Kesei Tominaga was in for a big game?
“Probably when he hit the one from halfcourt,” the Huskers basketball coach said. “I think that was the one where I kind of knew that it was Keisei’s night.”
Grinning from ear to ear, Tominaga echoed that sentiment. How early did he know?
“Probably the first shot,” Tominaga said.
Amid a four-game losing streak and down two members of its starting lineup, Nebraska defeated Penn State 72-63 on Sunday at Pinnacle Bank Arena, moving to 11-13 on the season and 4-9 in the Big Ten.
With the local discourse around the program more about the uncertainty of next year instead of the season at hand, Hoiberg’s Huskers led from start to finish against the visitors, who fell to 14-9 and 5-7.
Tominaga finished with a career high 30 points, 16 of those coming in the second half. It was the third-highest scoring output by a Husker in a Big Ten game. His five 3-pointers were also the most a Husker has made in a game this season.
Tominaga is best known as a shooter, but his slashing cuts off the ball and his attempts at the basket prove he’s much more than that.
“People label Keisei as a shooter, but his cutting off of Derrick (Walker), off of (Sam) Griesel, is really impressive,” Hoiberg said. “And when teams are hugging him like they were today, and like they always play him, cutting is something that he has to do.”
Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said the Nittany Lions made the mistake of letting Tominaga get going.
“We didn’t do a good job,” Shrewsberry said. “We didn’t do a good job at all, but I thought he was great. I thought he got into a rhythm early by getting layups. Everything starts to fall from there.”
Tominaga’s long bombs, quick drives into the lane and his overall energy have made him a fan favorite.
“It is infectious,” Hoiberg said. “You see that when he hits those shots, when he gets to the end of the lane and hits those circus shots, you see the bench go crazy for him, you see his teammates out on the floor. It’s just fun to have a guy play with that much passion.”
Tominaga wasn’t the only act that drew raves. Guard Jamarques Lawrence finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. The freshman from Plainfield, New Jersey, has seen his role expand following season-ending injuries to Emmanuel Bandoumel and Juwan Gary.
Nebraska hit four of its first five 3-pointers to lead 22-13 early in the first half. Tominaga set the tone by scoring 10 of the Huskers’ first 17.
NU’s largest lead was 15 at 35-20 following a traditional three-point play by Griesel. Penn State responded by scoring six straight to get within single digits before half at 37-28.
Penn State would eventually cut the lead to three late in the second half, but a Tominaga layup and another 3-pointer all but slammed the door. The dagger came from Lawrence, who nailed his third 3 right in front of his head coach with 45 seconds to play. Free throws down the stretch from Lawrence and Sam Hoiberg finished the game.
Penn State attempted 38 3-pointers, more than half of their total shot attempts. Seth Lundy finished the game with eight 3-pointers, tying the Pinnacle Bank Arena record for made 3s in a game. Jalen Pickett finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists after being held in check the first half.
Lundy, Pickett and Andrew Funk accounted for 53 of Penn State’s 63 points.
The Huskers took care of the ball and finished with only seven turnovers, a much better performance than its 19 and 15 turnovers in back-to-back road losses to Maryland and Illinois.
“It started with our preparation and how we were going to turn the page and come back in here and get back to work and the guys were very resilient,” Hoiberg said.