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Must win for Nebraska at home tonight

Must win for Nebraska at home tonight
Glynn Watson Jr. and the Huskers return home for Penn State on Thursday. Photo by Lydia Asplin/Nebraska Communications

After opening 2019 with a pair of road games, the Husker men’s basketball team returns to Pinnacle Bank Arena Thursday evening to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions. A limited number of returned tickets, if available, will be on sale at the PBA Box Office beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and on Huskers.com/Tickets.

Tipoff is set for 8:05 p.m. (central) and the matchup will be televised nationally on ESPN2 with Jason Benetti and Robbie Hummel on the call. Thursday’s game will also be available on ESPN.com, as well as the ESPN app with cable authentication.

Fans can follow all of the action across the state of Nebraska on the IMG Husker Sports Network with Kent Pavelka and Jake Muhleisen on the call. The game will also be available on Huskers.com, on the Huskers app, on TuneIn Radio and the TuneIn Radio app and on XM radio. The pregame show begins one hour prior to tipoff on many of the Husker Sports Network affiliates (affiliate list on page 7 of the game notes).

The Huskers (11-4, 1-3 Big Ten) look to bounce back after a 93-84 loss at No. 25 Iowa on Sunday. Senior Isaac Copeland had a season-high 24 points to lead four Huskers in double figures, but the Hawkeyes got a strong performance from Jordan Bohannon, who scored 22 of his 25 points in the second half. Iowa also went 10-of-22 from 3-point range and 29-of-32 from the foul line, while Nebraska shot just 4-of-23 from long range against the Hawkeyes.

Nebraska will look to sharpen its focus on the defensive end, as its last two opponents shot a combined 46 percent from the floor and averaged 83.5 points per game after the Huskers entered January allowing just 37 percent shooting and 57.8 ppg.

Nebraska hopes a return to Pinnacle Bank Arena will provide a spark, as Nebraska goes for a school-record 20th straight home win on Thursday night. It is the fourth-longest streak in the nation entering this week’s action and the longest by a power conference program. A win against the Nittany Lions would match the streak set by the 1965-66 and 1966-67 squads.

Penn State (7-8, 0-4 Big Ten) looks to bounce back following a 71-52 loss to Wisconsin on Sunday. Lamar Stevens led PSU with 22 points, but was the only Nittany Lion in double figures. Stevens is among the Big Ten’s top performers, averaging a team-high 18.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

OPENING NUMBER

8.5 – Nebraska leads the Big Ten with 8.5 steals per game, as all five starters average at least a steal per game. As a team, Nebraska has not averaged 8.0 steals per game since the 2007-08 season (8.4 spg).

NUMBERS TO KNOW

1.44 – Nebraska’s assist-to-turnover ratio, which is on pace to be one of the best marks in school history. Last season, NU had a 1.23-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Both Glynn Watson Jr. and Thomas Allen currently have better than 3.0-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratios.

No. Year Asst.-to-TO ratio
1. 1984-85 1.81
2. 1985-86 1.64
2018-19 1.44
3. 1983-84 1.34
4. 1981-82 1.29

 

13 – Number of 20-point games for Husker players in 2018-19. James Palmer Jr. has eight while Isaac Copeland Jr. (three), Glynn Watson Jr. (one) and Isaiah Roby (one) also enjoyed 20-point games. Sunday’s game was the second time in 2018-19 with multiple 20-point games (Copeland Jr. 24; Palmer Jr. 20).

79.9 – Nebraska current scoring average which is the highest after 15 games since the 1995-96 team averaged 87.5 ppg in that same time frame.

20.1 – Scoring average for James Palmer Jr. The senior is bidding to become the first Husker since Tyronn Lue (1997-98) to average 20 points per game.

SCOUTING PENN STATE

Under eighth-year coach Patrick Chambers, Penn State comes to Lincoln looking to snap a two-game losing streak. The Nittany Lions, who went 26-13 and won the NIT in 2018, returned three starters from year ago, but have been forced to use several lineups during the first half of the season. Penn State handed No. 9 Virginia Tech its only loss of the year and has battled nationally ranked Michigan and Indiana. In Sunday’s loss to Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions shot just 38 percent and committed 16 turnovers which led to 19 Wisconsin points.

Senior forward Lamar Stevens has been the one constant for Penn State, as he leads the Nittany Lions in both scoring (18.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.1 rpg). Stevens has been in double figures in all 15 games, including seven 20-point efforts, and has six double-doubles. He had 22 points in Sunday’s game against Wisconsin. Junior Mike Watkins returns on the interior and is averaging 7.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the field. Senior Josh Reaves is one of the premier defensive players in the Big Ten, as he leads the conference in steals at 2.5 per game while also leading Penn State in assists (3.3 apg). Freshmen Rasir Bolton (13.1 ppg) and Myles Dread (8.1 ppg) provide additional offensive output.

SERIES HISTORY

Thursday’s game is the 18th meeting between the Huskers and Nittany Lions, and Penn State holds a 9-8 advantage. Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the Huskers are 7-7 against the Nittany Lions (7-5 in regular season; 0-2 in Big Ten Tournament).  The teams played three times before Nebraska joined the Big Ten, a home-and-home series in 1980 and 1981 and in the second round of the 1995 NIT. Nebraska is 7-1 in Lincoln all-time against the Nittany Lions.

LAST MEETING VS. PENN STATE

Isaac Copeland recorded a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Nebraska led wire-to-wire, defeating Penn State 76-64 in the 2017-18 regular-season finale.   Copeland led four Huskers in double figures, as Isaiah Roby scored 13 points and added seven boards while Glynn Watson Jr. and James Palmer Jr. both tallied 11 points.

Nebraska took control with a 17-3 run, turning a one-point game into a 25-10 cushion and led by double figures the rest of the way. Jordy Tshimanga had six of his eight points in an 11-0 spurt, as he and Copeland combined to outscore the Nittany Lions, 18-17, in the opening 20 minutes. Nebraska led by as many as 21 in the second half in posting its sixth straight win over PSU in Lincoln.

LAST TIME OUT

Isaac Copeland scored a season-high 24 points, but it was not enough as No. 24 Nebraska lost a battle of top-25 teams Sunday night, falling to No. 25 Iowa, 93-84, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Nebraska dropped to 11-4 on the season and 1-3 in the Big Ten after losing back-to-back games for the first time this season. Iowa (12-3, 1-3 Big Ten) picked up its first conference victory by scoring 93 points, the most Nebraska has allowed this season.

The 3-point line was a major factor, as Iowa made six more threes than the Huskers. Nebraska hit two of its first four 3-pointers but missed 17 of its final 19 attempts, connecting on just 4-of-23 from beyond the arc on the game. While the Huskers struggled to find their range, Iowa was 10-of-22 from the 3-point line, in addition to going 29-of-32 at the free-throw line. Nebraska made three more field goals and had five fewer turnovers than Iowa, but Iowa out-rebounded Nebraska by nine.

Copeland scored his 24 points in only 30 minutes, and he added six rebounds. James Palmer Jr. added 20 points and four assists, while Isaiah Roby hit 8-of-10 shots from the floor to finish with 17 points and nine rebounds. Thomas Allen rounded out the quartet of Huskers in double figures with 10 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists.

WORTH NOTING

  • Nebraska looks to match a school record, as the Huskers go for their 20th straight home win on Thursday against Penn State. The Huskers’ 19 straight home wins dating back to Dec. 20, 2017 is the fourth-longest active streak in the country and longest by a power conference program. A win on Thursday would match a 20-game streak set between 1965 and 1967.
  •  As of the Jan. 6 NET, Nebraska has played eight games against teams in the top two quadrants, tied for 10th nationally. Of the nine teams who have played more, the Huskers will play six of them during the season (Illinois, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Seton Hall).
  • The Big Ten is well represented in the latest NET released on Jan. 6, as 10 teams are ranked in the top 40, including six teams in the top 22 (Michigan-3; Michigan State-7; Nebraska-15; Wisconsin-17; Indiana-20; Purdue-22). In all, 12 of the 14 Big Ten teams are in the top 75 nationally.
  • All four of Nebraska’s losses are to teams either ranked or receiving votes in this week’s national polls.
  • The Huskers’ 11-4 mark is its best 15-game record since the 2010-11 team opened the year with a 13-2 mark after 15 games.
  • The Huskers are averaging 79.9 points per game, which is third in the Big Ten and NU’s highest scoring average after 15 games since the 1995-96 season (87.5 ppg). During the previous six seasons under Head Coach Tim Miles, NU’s highest average after 15 games was 75.8 ppg set last season.
  • Nebraska’s offense ranks in the top-25 nationally in a trio of categories, including turnovers per game (10.4, 11th), turnover margin (+4.8, 12th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.43, 21st).
  • NU has committed 10 or fewer turnovers in eight of the last 10 contests dating back to Nov. 24.  On the season, the Huskers’ four primary ball handlers (Glynn Watson Jr., Thomas Allen, James Palmer Jr. and Amir Harris) have combined 2.1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • Nebraska is one of six teams in Division I ranked in the top 25 nationally in field goal defense, 3-point defense and scoring defense through Jan. 6, a list which also includes Virginia, Texas Tech, Houston, San Francisco and VCU.
  • The Huskers finished non-conference action with a 10-1 mark, including wins over Seton Hall, Clemson, Creighton and Oklahoma State. It marked just the fourth time since World War II that the Huskers finished non-conference play with one loss (10-1, 2003-04; 12-1, 1991-92; and 11-1, 1977-78).
  • Glynn Watson Jr. comes into the Penn State game in 17th place on NU’s career scoring list with 1,236 points. He is 19 points shy of passing Chuck Jura (1,255) for 16th place on NU’s scoring list.  Watson is also two steals shy of sixth place on NU’s steals list (Brian Carr, 159).
  • Isaiah Roby enters Thursday’s game in 10th place on NU’s career blocked shot list with 109 and will tie Jorge Brian Diaz for ninth with his first block. He is also four blocks shy of eighth on NU’s career list (Wes Wilkinson, 113).
  • James Palmer Jr. has scored 20+ points in five of Nebraska’s last six games dating back to Dec. 8. He has eight 20-point games this season, matching his career total in 105 games entering this year.
  • Sunday’s loss was just fourth time in 40 games under Nebraska Coach Tim Miles where the Huskers scored at least 80 points and lost. NU had won its last 14 games dating back to the 2016-17 season when scoring at least 80 points.

HUSKER OFFENSE GETS INTO HIGH GEAR

Nebraska comes into the Penn State game averaging 79.9 points per game after averaging 72.3 points per game last year.  NU has scored at least 70 points in 13 of 15 contests, including seven games of at least 80 points.

  • Nebraska is 10th nationally in offensive efficiency according to KenPom through Jan. 3. In the KenPom era, only the 2003-04 team (25th) ranked in the top-50 nationally in offensive efficiency.
  • Nebraska’s 79.9 points per game would rank seventh in school history and is on pace to be the Huskers’ highest single-season average since 1995-96 (80.2 ppg). Nebraska has averaged 80+ points six times in school history, all coming in a seven-year span under Danny Nee.
  • The Huskers scored 106 points in the opener against Mississippi Valley State. It was the Huskers’ highest total since scoring 107 against North Carolina A&T on Dec. 19, 2005.
  • Nebraska opened the season with four straight games scoring at least 80 points, marking the first time NU has accomplished that since the 1996 NIT.
  • Nebraska scored 94 points in the win over Creighton, its third-highest total in 52 meetings in the series.
  • NU has already had seven players score in double figures, including six against Southeastern Louisiana on Nov. 11, while four players –  James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland Jr., Glynn Watson Jr. and Isaiah Roby – have recorded 20-point performances.

The quick start is not surprising based on what the Huskers brought back from last year’s team that went 22-11, as Nebraska brought back its top four scorers for the first time in 15 years, including three players who averaged double figures.

  • Nebraska returned three double-figure scorers (James Palmer Jr., 17.2, Isaac Copeland Jr., 12.9 and Glynn Watson Jr., 10.5) for the first time since the 1992-93 season (Eric Piatkowski, 14.3; Derrick Chandler, 12.3; Jamar Johnson, 11.2).
  • Nebraska returned 73 percent of its scoring and 72 percent of its assists from last season. It marked the third time in the last 15 seasons that Nebraska returns at least 70 percent of its scoring from the previous year.

DOING IT WITH DEFENSE

For Nebraska, the biggest thing over the last two seasons – a stretch where the Huskers are 33-15 – has been improvements on the defensive end.

Last season, NU went from 13th to sixth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense and from 14th to second in 3-point percentage defense. NU ranked in the top-75 nationally in both field goal defense (74th) and 3-point percentage defense (32nd) last season.  That has continued during the 2018-19 season, despite NU’s struggles on that end in the past two contests.

  • Nebraska ranks in the top-25 nationally in scoring defense (61.3 ppg, 14th), field goal defense (.386, 18th) and 3-point defense (.285, 18th). The Huskers also lead the Big Ten in steals (8.5 spg) and are fourth in blocked shots (4.7 bpg).
  • Only one opponent has shot over 50 percent against Nebraska in the last 40 games dating back to last season. In 2018-19, NU has held 14 of its 15 opponents under 50 percent shooting.
  • NU limited nine of its 15 opponents to under 0.85 points per possession. Mississippi Valley State and Southeastern Louisiana were held to 0.47 points per possession, the lowest number in Tim Miles’ seven years at NU. On the season, the Huskers are 49th in Kenpom’s adjusted defense through Jan. 7.
  • The Huskers have held six opponents to their lowest offensive total of the season.
  • Under Miles, the Huskers are 49-5 (.907) when holding opponents under 60 points.

NEW NUMBER, SAME GAME FOR PALMER

While senior guard James Palmer Jr. switched from No. 24 to No. 0 in the offseason, the All-American candidate continues to produce at a high level. The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging 20.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

  • He is among the Big Ten leaders in scoring (second), steals (fourth), free throw percentage (.810, 10th) and 3-pointers per game (2.1, 11th), while he is also second on NU in assists.
  • Palmer is challenging to be the first Husker to average 20.0 ppg since Tyronn Lue averaged 21.2 ppg in 1997-98. Only six Husker players have ever averaged 20.0 in a season.
  • Palmer has shown the ability to get to the free throw line, as he ranks in the top-10 nationally in both free throws (98, eighth) and attempts (121, 9th), while shooting a career best 81.0 percent from the foul line. Entering this year, Palmer was a career 72 percent shooter.
  • He is the only power conference player, and one of just 14 players nationally to get to the line at least 100 times and shoot 80 percent from the foul line as of Jan. 7.
  • His Husker career scoring average of 18.1 points per game is eighth among all power conference players spanning the last two seasons. The Big Ten features three of the top eight with Purdue’s Carsen Edwards and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ.
  • Palmer has reached double figures in 45 of 48 career games at Nebraska, including 16 20-point efforts and a pair of 30-point performances.
  • Since Dec. 1, Palmer is averaging 22.3 points and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 45 percent from 3-point range.
  • Palmer led NU with 26 points at Maryland while adding seven rebounds, four assists and a career-high five steals.
  • Palmer shouldered the scoring load in the win over Oklahoma State with a game-high 29 points, including 14-of-15 shooting from the foul line.
  • Palmer enjoyed one of the best performances of his career, scoring 30 points against Creighton. The effort included a career-high six 3-pointers. With that performance against the Bluejays, he became just the 16th player in school history to record multiple 30-point games.
  • He turned in a strong performance in the Huskers’ win at Clemson, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the second half and also snaring a career-high nine rebounds.
  •  Finished with 29 points against Seton Hall, the third-highest scoring night in his career, as he scored 18 of his points in the second half.

Last season, Palmer averaged 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in leading the Huskers to a 22-11 record and an NIT berth.  Palmer reached double figures in 31 of 33 games in his first season at Nebraska, including eight 20-point efforts. Palmer’s junior year was highlighted by a career-high 34-point effort at Ohio State. Palmer joins Purdue’s Carsen Edwards as returning first-team All-Big Ten selections by the conference coaches.

  • Palmer averaged 18.8 points per game in Big Ten play last year, which is the highest average in conference play since Aleks Maric averaged 18.9 ppg in 2006-07. It is also the most by a returning Big Ten player since Tim Frazier in 2012-13.

WATSON KEYS HUSKER ATTACK

Senior Glynn Watson Jr. is in his fourth year as Nebraska’s starting guard and is putting together his best season as a Husker. He comes into the Penn State game averaging 13.0 points per game on 46 percent shooting, including 41 percent from 3-point range. He is also averaging career bests in assists (4.1 apg), rebounds (4.1 rpg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.1-to-1).

  • His assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.10-to-1 this season is on pace to break the school record of 3.04-to-1 by Brian Carr in 1985-86.
  • Watson has been in double figures in 12 of 15 contests, including his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 assists in the win over Cal State Fullerton.
  • His on-ball defense has been instrumental in Nebraska ranking among the national leaders in field goal and scoring defense.
  • He guided the Husker attack in the win over Creighton with 13 points, five assists and a season-high three steals, while holding Creighton’s Ty-Shon Alexander to just 2-of-10 shooting.
  • Watson led NU with 20 points and a career-high nine boards against Western Illinois.
  • He showed his playmaking ability by dishing out eight assists and totaling 14 points in the win over Seton Hall.
  • Watson has a career 2.19-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and has more steals (157) than turnovers (151) in his career.
  • His older brother Demetri McCamey was an All-Big Ten guard at Illinois during the 2009-10 season.
  • Watson is one of three alumni of St. Joseph to reach 1,000 points at Nebraska, joining Carl Hayes (1,136, 1990-92) and Clifford Scales (1,136, 1988-91). All three played for legendary high school coach Gene Pingatore, who is in his 50th year as coach at St. Joseph and has won over 1,000 games at the school.

ISAAC MAKES IT TOUGH FOR OPPONENTS TO COPE

Isaac Copeland Jr. is back to make the most of his senior year. The 6-foot-9 forward joined the program in January of 2017, but then was unable to practice because of a herniated disc that eventually required surgery.

Despite not being able to practice until school started, Copeland finished second on the team in scoring (12.9 ppg), rebounding (6.1 rpg) and blocked shots (1.0 bpg) in his first year at NU, setting personal bests in all three areas and earning honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors.

Copeland has improved many of his numbers in 2018-19, as he averages 14.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 54 percent from the field.

  • Copeland has reached double figures 13 times in 15 games, including a trio of 20-point efforts. He saw his streak of seven straight double-figure games – the longest of his career – snapped with his eight-point effort at Maryland.
  • He led Nebraka with a season-high 24-point effort at Iowa while adding six rebounds, two steals and two assists.
  • Copeland had 16 points, five rebounds and a pair of assists in the win over Oklahoma State, keying the Huskers’ comeback in the first half with five straight points as part of an 11-2 run.
  • He topped NU in points (17) and rebounds (seven) at Minnesota, including hitting 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
  • The senior carried NU to a win at Clemson with 16 points, six boards and three assists while his biggest play was a blocked shot which led to James Palmer’s dunk after Clemson closed to within five.
  • He earned a spot on the Hall of Fame Classic All-Tournament Team, averaging 21.5 points per game on 61 percent shooting, 7.5 blocks and 3.0 assists per game. He was in double figures in both contests, including 23 points against Missouri State and 20 points and eight boards against Texas Tech.
  • Copeland collected his fifth career double-double in Nebraska’s win over Seton Hall with 18 points and 10 rebounds. He had one during his redshirt year at Georgetown (2016-17) and three in 2017-18.
  • He has 11 career 20-point games (7 at Nebraska, 4 at Georgetown), including a pair of 30-point games. Copeland had 30 points on 12-of-14 shooting against North Dakota last year and a career-high 32-point night against Marquette during his sophomore year at Georgetown.
  • A top-20 recruit coming out of high school, his 2014 Brewster Academy team also featured Donovan Mitchell (Utah), Devonte’ Graham (Charlotte) and Jonah Bolden (Philadelphia).
  • Copeland earned his undergraduate degree in sociology last May and is working on his Master’s Degree. He comes from a basketball family, as his father (Ike) played collegiately at East Carolina. As a senior, he helped East Carolina make the NCAA Tournament.

ROBY FILLS STAT SHEET

Isaiah Roby compliments the Husker attack with a unique skill set. The 6-foot-8 junior comes into the Penn State game averaging 10.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.

Roby leads the Huskers in blocked shots and rebounding and one of only two Big Ten players ranked in the top 10 in the conference in both blocked shots and steals. In addition, he is one of only 12 players nationally and five in power conferences averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per game.

  • Roby has played some of his best basketball in recent games, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game over his last five contests.
  • He comes off a solid performance against Iowa, finishing with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and a season-high nine rebounds despite foul trouble.
  • Roby returned to action after missing the Southwest Minnesota game with an injury. He finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots against the Terrapins.
  • He scored a career-high 20 points against Cal State Fullerton. Roby topped his previous best of 18 points set as a sophomore at Minnesota, while also topping the Huskers with eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
  • Roby put together his most complete game in the win over Creighton, setting season highs in points (15), rebounds (eight) and assists (four) along with a pair of blocks against the Bluejays.
  • His dunk against Seton Hall on Nov. 14 marked the fourth time he’s had a top-10 play on SportsCenter at NU, including highlight dunks vs. Rutgers (2018) and at Indiana (2016).
  • Nebraska is 22-8 since moving Roby into the starting lineup midway through Big Ten play last season. Roby has all four of his career double-doubles in that stretch.
  • Roby is one of only two returning power conference players to total 50 blocks and 50 assists last season, joining Missouri’s Jontay Porter, who will miss the 2018-19 season with a torn ACL. Roby is also one of four Huskers to have 50 blocks and 50 assists in a season, joining Aleks Maric, Venson Hamilton and Rich King.

THE A TEAM: ALLEN AND AKENTEN

One of the biggest questions entering the season was who would emerge as the Huskers’ fifth starter. Sophomores Thomas Allen and Nana Akenten have shared the duties and provided the Huskers with an offensive punch.

  • Allen has started most of the season and is averaging 8.7 points per game on 49 percent shooting, including 39 percent from 3-point range, while chipping in 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He has  been in double figures five times, including four of the last six contests.
  • Allen is third in the Big Ten in steals per games and is second on the team in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.09-to-1).
  • He has been playing well over the last seven contests, averaging 10.6 points per game on 55 percent shooting along with 2.3 assists per game. He also has a 3.60-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in that stretch.
  • Allen had a career-high 18 points, five assists and four rebounds against Creighton and had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting against Oklahoma State after missing most of the week with an illness.
  • Akenten has started twice and is averaging 5.8 points per game on 41 percent shooting. He is shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range and has given the Huskers a pair of double-figure efforts.
  • He had a career-high 18 points off the bench against Mississippi Valley State, including five 3-pointers, in just 13 minutes. He also had 11 points in the win over Missouri State and nine points in a start against Cal State  Fullerton.

FILLING UP PINNACLE BANK ARENA

Pinnacle Bank Arena will be full once again in 2018-19, as the NU Athletic Ticket Office announced on September 25 that general public season tickets were sold out for the 2018-19 season. In all, nearly 15,000 season tickets have been sold for the 2018-19 season, including the Red Zone student section.

Since moving into PBA in 2013-14, the Huskers have ranked in the top-15 in attendance nationally all five years, and are one of only nine schools in the country to average 15,000+ fans per contest in that span.

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